1. Specific Context
ENG 111 classes have up to 25 students and there are taught by more part time adjuncts than full time instructors. When I come to teach their class, there are anywhere from 10-24 students (some leave school after getting their financial aid balance, others skip the library class). The classes are either 75 minutes long and meet twice a week or they are night classes meeting 1 night a week for 3 hours – I teach for 75 mins). When teaching these classes, I try to reserve a computer classroom if they do not already meet in one, however, this is getting increasingly difficult due to the developmental math emporiums. Plus, some computer classrooms are better than others. One only has 20 computers and another has the whiteboard blocked by the projection screen.
2. General Context
The learning expectations for this class include “inquiry, analysis, effective use of rhetorical strategies, thesis development, audience awareness, and revision…students should be able to produce unified, coherent, well-developed essays using standard written English.” Basically, they learn to write good and analyze stuff. In practice, it’s more about grammar and developing an argument/voice in an essay. For the library research component, the goals are vague and vary by instructor. Instructors range from those not requiring much of any research, to instructors requiring 5 or more scholarly sources (not just sources from a library database).
3. Nature of the Subject
ENG 111 is a practice course that polishes basic writing style and introduces students to research writing and analysis. This course introduces students to divergent learning, but most are still stuck in convergent. The department revamped the course about a year ago, to focus less on one big essay and instead contain multiple papers and a final, larger research paper (prompts were provided, but most instructors and librarians find them problematic, so most allow students to choose their own topics). In terms of library research, we recently switched from EBSCO to ProQuest databases and have been changing other electronic resources as budgets are decreased or remained flat.
4. Characteristics of Students
As a community college, there is a large age range of students, from HS-aged students taking college classes as part of their Middle College High School at CPCC to middle aged and senior citizens coming back for a degree. Programs include both general education and vocational and trade (Automotive and general education at my campus). We do have several international students with a broad range of English skills. Most students are low income and work at least part time and all commute. While we do have very bright and knowledgeable students, most are not and many are unmotivated and/or aimless. The vast majority have never used a library for research, just using Google, and they have short attention spans. I warn them that college level research is a whole new ball game, and that makes them anxious and apprehensive. They want to do just enough to get the assignment done.
5. Characteristics of the Teacher
I try to make what I teach relevant to them. I have them use their topics to develop a search strategy and get some work done in class. I use visuals in my presentations including pictures and videos. I use real world examples (most recent: to show why using quality information is important, I link the recent measles outbreak to an article about Lancet retracting Wakefield’s article), I chunk the class into lecture/video/activity/self-searching portions, and try to scaffold learning over sequenced classes (ENG 111, ENG 112, etc.). I want students to learn skills they can take with them and apply elsewhere, rather than giving them answers. I use visuals, humor, and examples from my own educational and employment career to help students see relevance and what they’ll be doing in their lives.
A year (or more) after the course is over, I want and hope students will take the time to think about the information they need to be more strategic and discerning searchers.
- focusing a topic
- creating a search strategy
- using library resources
- basic citation purpose
- understand their information needs
- choose appropriate sources
- search skills apply to multiple areas
- broad search vs thought-out, strategic search
- basic, one-box search engine vs library search features
Human Dimensions Goals
- Students can learn and use advanced, complex search engines
- Students can “poke around” or use trial and error
- Patience is a virtue and dead ends happen
- Confidence in new, complex resources
- Students learn to explore and try different paths
- Complexity can be useful and helpful
- Being deliberate and strategic cuts down on frustration and confusion