Tuesday, March 26, 2024

#LILAC24 Widening participation, information literacy and the transition to university: reflections and initial findings from Lancaster University’s Library Schools Engagement Project

Pam McKinney live blogging from the second day of the LILAC Information Literacy Conference taking place at Leeds Beckett University. Paul Newnhan (@newnham_p), Faculty Librarian for Lancaster University Library and Clare Shaikh, Library schools engagement officer presented their research project that aimed to develop a programme of support related to the extended project qualification and engage with 6th-form college students and university students from widening participation backgrounds.  The project is ongoing, this is a report from the initial research findings from the first year of the project. The project was sponsored by the widening participation advisory group that supports people from underrepresented groups to apply for and succeed at university. £44,500 of funding was given for this pilot project which funded a full-time engagement officer post. They also received support from the library senior management. The library has a history of working with local schools and colleges and ran study events for 6th form students. Information literacy development, progression, widening participation and employability are the key themes addressed by the project. Equipping students with skills to support their transition to university helps reduce the dropout rate. The journal paper I wrote with Sharon Wagg on her dissertation research on information literacy outreach was cited as a key influence (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1300584)

They engaged with 3 distinct groups of participants: 6th form college students doing the EPQ qualification; 6th form college staff, and university student employed as library ambassadors. Library research days were used by students to research their EPQs. Outreach visits took place in colleges where university staff supported EPQs in colleges.  In addition, lesson plans and online teaching were developed.

Data was collected through pre- and post-intervention surveys using questions developed from a widening participation question bank. observations took place at the events and outreach/study days focusing on how students interacted with information and the library. There were also focus groups with students and interviews with staff.

Lancaster University information literacy framework was used as a model for the analysis of the data relating to information literacy. There were varying levels of understanding and knowledge about the academic information landscape, but they did develop an understanding over the course of the project and developed familiarity with the language of academic information. Teachers understood this academic language and helped embed this learning. All agreed that refining a topic and developing a research question is difficult for students, and it is tricky to define a topic question at the right size and shape.  This causes students to leave the EPQ programme. This is the first piece of schoolwork that children do that requires this kind of devising of a research question. Many students were familiar with natural language search, but none had experienced searching a library catalogue. Teaching these skills was very well received by students and they recognised the value of the information they found through the library';s One-search. 
Teachers also recognised the value of this teaching, for helping students prepare and make better use of their time. The open access filter of One Search was also seen to be useful as it facilitated access to quality information. that was not behind a paywall. Encouraging students to adopt a more structured approach to their searching was seen to be positive. Students learnt how to manage and organise their material, and developed a range of strategies based on recommendations they were introduced to at study days.  College students used a range of evaluative strategies, that they were introduced to at school and at the study days. These were favourably commented on by the students.
College students find writing up their EPQ challenging and understanding the difference between being descriptive and being analytical. Using reference tables can help students organise their material and engage critically with it. Students developed understanding that work needed to be written and refined and written again, as part of an iterative process of development. There was a good understanding of ethics, referencing and plagiarism from staff, but some students really struggled to understand it. Some students used online tools to help manage references, but it was identified as a key activity that the library could support further development of referencing practices.

The EPQ involves students choosing a topic, then research and undertake the project and present it to a non-specialist audience.  It aims to develop critical, reflective and independent learners.  Students said they struggled with time management and working independently, but could recognise the value of the EPQ to their personal development. The peer support element of the project facilitated knowledge exchange between current university students and college students.

The programme aimed to develop confidence in academic study with college students, and develop a sense of belonging at university.  The peer supporters also developed their employability, they spoke about their passion for the subject and the value of picking a subject that you are really interested in.  They were keen to share their expertise with the college students.  There were some very positive interactions between 6th-form students and university students, but a bit more training in this area has been identified as something to work on for the future. 6th-form students were impressed with the library building, and were surprised by the different learning environments in the library.  The project helped de-mystify the academic library. The EPQ helped students develop confidence, and the outreach activities helped students develop academic confidence. Recommendations have been produced for the project going forwards

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