Alison Hicks, Betsaida Reyes and Bronwen Maxson presented about some research they did into unrecognised strategies students use to make sense of academic research. Particularly they were interested in students who were working in a second language. The US has huge numbers of international students, and the literature continues to view international students as a homogenous group, when in fact they are very diverse. They took a constructivist approach to focus on international student activities, without comparing them to home students. They took a sociocultural perspective of IL as a “way of knowing” following the work of Annemare Lloyd.
In the research the team ran 3 focus groups with Spanish speaking graduate students studying a variety of disciplines. Students spoke in a mixture of English and Spanish, which helped capture some of the variety of experiences. Data was coded for activities, using gerunds to code the data. Students wee asked about their successful research strategies, what good researchers looked like and how they felt about doing research in a graduate school.
From the analysis came the theme of “grasping at straws” trying anything in order to stay afloat. They had previously been successful students, but found it much harder to engage with graduate study. For example being asked to search for theory, which was found to be rally challenging. They would go to google, beacause they felt they could get something, and also they wouldn’t be judged for a lack of knowledge. It provided a starting point for their research. The information environment at their university was much more complex, and at a much larger scale than then universities that they had been to previously, although the problem wasn’t the databases, more the physical library environment that was more stressful. A second them was “mastering the canon” attempting to determine the key scholarly ideas in their fields, and what were the core texts. They tried to take shortcuts in order to do this e.g. by finding a thesis and use that as a starting point - it was a “safe” resource because it had already been mediated by the staff in that university. They would choose sources based on frequency of citations, as a way to identify core thinkers. Because they were used to small libraries, they would trust that everything was suitable or relevant but the much larger collections at the US library were more difficult to engage with. They wanted to engage in very niche scholarly communities, and take on different perspectives other than the white western perspective.
The information needs emerged from a complex range of influences on research topics, with often tutors heavily influencing the topic based on their perception of what is “trendy” or likely to result in employment. They had a sense of responsibility, and wanted to improve people’s lives through their research. Students were using information to mediate their transition from students to academic, and transition from a Spanish speaker to an English speaker. The practical implications of this research are that student orientation sessions have been redesigned to be more of a conversation, and draw out students prior experiences. Also more experienced graduate students will com and talk through some of the issues they faced. Session will focus much more on the physical resources. They have also developed a series of workshops e.g. mapping key researchers in a field, making your mark as a researcher. Spaces for graduate students in the library have been re-thought to provide a more collaborative environment. It’s important to do more research into everyday IL of international students.