At Milton we have a “research season” split into three parts, where three different groups come in for a month to work on a project. This past month was the first of those parts and the juniors (and a few seniors) came in.
The majority of those students were Milton freshmen in March 2020. They’d spent Fall Semester having what we called Class IV Study Hall (no longer a thing) on our third floor; this was supposed to give them the opportunity to do homework in a quiet space daily (in practice, it depended on the proctor whether they were actually quiet or doing homework). And then the day before Spring Break came, and with it lockdown. When we returned, all research was virtual and–I’ll own this–we were about as unprepared as everyone else on how to deliver instruction in a purely digital scenario. We bought some new tools, including EBSCO ebooks and the LibAnswers component of the LibFamily, and were starting to figure all that out. I’d like to think we didn’t do horribly but I have no empirical evidence to suggest that was the case.
By last year, we’d gotten better at this: we had an online portal and a resource guide that highlighted the digital resources. We had a schedule of online chat that mimicked the school day. Teachers felt more comfortable asking us to “visit” their classes. And you know what? It worked. Not great, not perfect, but it did work.
This year we knew would be different: we were 100% in person (or close to that). So we revamped our resource guide. We made sure we had new non-fiction for them to use, updating some sections and beefing up others. Even better, these students would get their first introduction to the library as a place to do research. In person. We also planned to have our chat feature available from 3-9:45pm, Monday-Thursday.
Either these students are remarkably self-sufficient, or they understand citations in a way previous years haven’t, or they
So, how did it go? I’m really not sure. At first glance, I saw:
- incredibly self-sufficient researchers who found their books easily
- students extremely competent in citation formatting
But at second glance? I’m not so sure. We got virtually no chat questions (in ~81 hours of chat, only four questions. Four.) and very few in person questions. There were conversations I overheard between the teachers and students, and I knew that we could be helpful. But there is that old phrase about leading horses to water…
Spring Break starts in a week. And then our freshmen come in for their month of research. Unlike the juniors, they’ve never done research before, online or in person. So it’s a fresh start, a way to really test if the chat is needed or if we should rethink what we’re offering. Shortly after that the sophomores come in (yes, there will be many days with 25 classes in during a seven period day) and they did online last year and will now be tackling in person. This is when we’ll really be able to see how things went last year, how much they retained (hah! we all know even in the best of times, that’s not really happening) and what we should focus on for next year.
At times I’ve felt like a failure regarding the juniors and seniors vis-a-vis research. COVID and its disruptions were not my fault, not the fault of the school or the teachers. And it’s probably better that they came in for in person research late, feeling self-sufficient, than never. Right?
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