Emory Report
March 2, 2009
Volume 61, Number 22



Emory Report homepage  

March 2
, 2009
Science-library partnership a successful surprise

When students are given the opportunity to work as scientists in the laboratory, they automatically become more engaged in learning about science. Critical thinking and information literacy are essential for being a successful scientist. How can one accomplish teaching students to be scientists with these key qualities in an introductory biology curriculum? Effective partnerships make this possible.

A collaboration between the Oxford College library and the biology department began several years ago blending the teaching of research methods to facilitate experiential learning for students in the introductory biology curriculum. We recently published a report of our collaboration in the March/April 2008 issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching showing evidence that a layered approach enables students to build on experiences during a semester, internalize research skills, and thereby transfer their knowledge into a sequential course requiring the application of the same skills.

What we have achieved and learned from this experience?

Nitya Jacob is associate professor of biology at Oxford College.

When I was a college student one of my work-study jobs was to serve as a library assistant. I was unaware that it was just the beginning of a lifelong connection that I would have with libraries. I was pleased to join an ongoing collaboration in my first year as a faculty member at Oxford College with my biology colleagues and the librarians. As our efforts progressed over the years, I had the opportunity to work closely with Andrea to further expand our program from one course (Biology 141) to two sequential courses (Biology 141 and 142).

My teaching philosophy is that instructors and students learn best when working in partnership with each other. Our project combining the work of faculty, students and librarians has illustrated how such collaborations enrich the learning experience for all involved.

In Biology 141 and 142, students learn to become scientists through hands-on engagement in scientific discovery. By partnering with the library we demonstrate to our students that the scientific thought process is not restricted to the laboratory.

Literature resources are needed to begin a scientific investigation in the first place. References also come in handy when planning the design for a particular experiment. Finally, convincing the scientific community of the credibility of one’s research requires a solid argument of the experimental evidence and its link to published works.

I’ve learned that students emerge from this experience with products that have exceeded my expectations. I am blown away by the level of detail and thought my freshmen and sophomore students put into their laboratory research projects when they have thoroughly examined literature resources.

The process has also taught me to be a more resourceful scientist with the help of my colleagues in the library. It is extremely rewarding to know that this collaboration has inspired unexpected motivation for learning on the part of students, faculty and librarians.

Andrea Heisel is associate college librarian at Oxford College.

It is no secret that librarians love to help people. It is an essential element of our profession.

In 2005, I was asked to continue a faculty partnership of 10 years with the Oxford biology faculty teaching research skills to the Biology 141 and 142 students. I was excited to continue the tradition started by my colleagues Kitty McNeill and Beth Haines.

What I discovered, along with Nitya, was that the library-biology department collaboration demonstrates how much more effective student research becomes as a result of faculty and librarian partnerships both in and outside of the traditional classroom.

Instead of providing just the one-shot library research instruction session, I found myself immersed along with the students in laboratory experiments while helping them craft search strategies and being invited to see their final presentations on their research.

We found that co-leading one library-specific research-topic instruction session with the biology faculty and returning at relevant research-related times throughout the semester worked well in our context. Using this format, collaboration is defined by the idea that the professor and the librarian are co-teaching the instruction session. We worked together to discuss the class needs and also shared in the presentation of material and answering questions in the library-instruction session, laboratory consultation, and the open-forum session.

As a result of our collaboration, students became more comfortable with asking for help in the research process, and librarians were able to anticipate and understand student questions better after visiting the laboratory.

From the library perspective, what we hope for in every class is faculty who are not only present but active partners in our planning of the library research instruction session, including full faculty participation in discussing with their students what makes good research and, conversely, research good.

Based on our results, our partnership was essential in helping students change their way of thinking. When they moved on to Biology 142, students were able to transfer their knowledge and skills to successive writing assignments and develop improved research questions. Finally, we found that our collaboration helped these students build on their framework of research skills in successive courses and establish stronger connections with the library resources and librarians.