Student Research Process: What Librarians, Instructors, & Colleges Can Do For Student Success

“Student Research Process: What Librarians, Instructors, & Colleges Can Do for Student Success” by Dena Martin, Woodland Community College & Dr. Elena Heilman, Yuba College

Dr. Elena Heilman completed her Ed.D. last spring in which she studied transfer-level English composition students’ experiences with research. Specifically, she sought to answer four questions:

1)    What was their experience in creating a research paper?

2)    What was their process?

3)    How did they evaluate and choose resources?

4)    What were their challenges and frustrations?

Her studies illustrate themes of what students face and provide recommendations of how to support student success. Many of Dr. Heilman’s results will not surprise librarians. She reveals that students do follow a process to complete their research papers and that they learned about research while performing research. Students struggle with evaluating sources, but did not ask for help from any campus resource. Many of these conclusions confirm results in other studies. Additionally, her results stress how important access is to resources via mobile devices. This finding helped our district progress with more mobile friendly web solutions sooner rather than later. Dr. Heilman’s research analysis concludes with recommendations that librarians, instructors, and the colleges can use to support students success.

Library instruction to students should include successful search queries by building on knowledge students already have, such as including topics on keyword and subject searching, selecting the best type of resources for their needs, and highlighting the differences between Google (since students started with Google in her study) and library databases. Offering workshops and other independent learning opportunities, such as video tutorials, since students often choose self-reliance over seeking campus assistance, on topics that students find most challenging will be beneficial. Evaluating and citing resources were the tasks students find most challenging. Encouraging instructors to offer extra credit for library workshops can motivate students to learn outside of the classroom.

Another successful model for supporting students’ information literacy is embedded learning.  Dr. Heilman also recommends demonstrating database searching on a variety of electronic devices and offering training on the devices students own and will use to perform research. Having a single search interface, such as a discovery service, may encourage more students to use library resources because it resembles what they experience using Google. Working with faculty to promote library resources and assistance to students will be more successful if instructors incorporate using library resources and assistance as part of assignments, so librarians will need to form partnerships and encourage faculty to do this. Librarians will need to work with their Information Technology Department to improve off-campus access to library resources and anonymous research help options. Other options to reach out to students who would be more comfortable with anonymous help could include online forms or online discussion forums.

As most librarians have discovered through experience, it takes a partnership with instructors for a higher level of teaching success. Instructors have a unique role for assisting students in the development of information literacy competencies. By discussing the nature of the research process with their students, students can better understand what to expect and apply this knowledge to the process for an optimal learning experience. Instructors who include prompts in their research assignments that specifically provide detailed procedures for selecting, evaluating, and citing sources will strengthen student research skills. Emphasizing they want students to ask for help will encourage students who think they should be autonomous to seek assistance. Scheduling time in a computer lab and having students bring their own devices would allow instructors (or librarians) to guide students and teach them to overcome the challenges they face. Since scheduling lab time can be an issue for courses that are listed as lecture credit, instructors may need to consider supplemental learning activities outside of class to accomplish this.

College leadership also has a role to play in supporting student success. Librarians need administrative support to create environments that are best suited to what research teaches us about successful learning. Colleges should find ways to expand the ways information literacy is taught. Libraries must be funded with enough staffing and technological resources to improve access to learning assistance and resources as well as promote those services and resources. Other research suggests cross-disciplinary collaboration increases student learning and success. College leaders must ensure libraries have sufficient staffing to do this and librarians have flexibility to create relationships with faculty and students.

Although most of the recommendations are not new to us, Dr. Heilman’s research supports the same conclusions that other research and our own experiences teach us. Knowing about this research gives us an opportunity to try something new, confirm we are on the right path, and, maybe, increase support for the libraries at our own campuses.

If you are interested in reading Dr. Heilman’s dissertation (there is a useful literature review section on information seeking models/theories we did not cover here), we are happy to send you a copy as well as answer any questions. If so, please email or