The Skills Higher Ed. Professionals Wish High School Students would Acquire


Years ago, our faculty was sent out to various local colleges.  The goal was to generate discussion between our  staff and higher education professionals to learn which skills higher ed. wished high school graduates would enter college with.  This professional development experience inspired me to begin to teach our students how to access and interact with peer reviewed articles from scholarly journals.

Years later, my husband was working on his nursing degree.  He was asked to create an annotated bibliography and needed assistance.  I did a little research and learned that a common mistake with annotated bibliographies is to solely summarize the resource used versus provide discussion on the unique value of the resource, especially in relationship to the other resources selected.

I have since taught each lesson passionately, believing that I was preparing students for future academic endeavors while hopefully lessening the stress that they would be destined to experience just in making the huge transition from high school to college.

Both events have prompted me to want to, again, ask higher education librarians, “Which skills do you wish incoming freshmen had learned during their high school years?”

I posed the question to Librarians at Penn State University, Northampton Community College, and Lehigh University.   Each responded quickly and have granted permission to me to share their responses in order for secondary educators to learn from.  I, personally, look forward to looking through the responses in order to drive future education and hope you do, too!

“Which skills do you wish incoming freshmen had learned during their high school years?”

Collection of responses received from Penn State University:
How to evaluate information, especially web sites for suitability, i.e. when it’s ok/not ok to use Wikipedia…how to find credible sources online. Librarian, Emily Rimland

The ability to tell the difference between types of sources (newspaper, book, blog post, journal article, etc.) and know what appropriate uses might be.  Librarian, Anne Behler

Being able to tell who authored a source, when they wrote it, and “why” they wrote it. Librarian, Amanda Clossen

Knowing to check for databases available to them and searching them first, when appropriate. Librarian, Loanne Snavely

Courtney Eger: Information Services Librarian at Northampton Community College:
1) My immediate first answer is: Google and the Internet are not the keys to good research information! We see many of our college students go immediately to the Internet, Google Wikipedia, etc. when they begin looking for research to use in papers and assignments. It makes the NCC librarians very upset that students do not first use the library’s books or online databases! We try to teach our students that college-level research needs to be academic, so the free Internet isn’t the best place to go for peer-reviewed, credible sources. Once students understand what the databases are (places where one can search for articles on any number of subjects published in newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals) and how they work, they are very happy with the amount of good information that they can find on them.

2) I wish incoming students knew how to structure their database searches. So many students treat our databases like they would Google, and type in questions like, “What are the causes of media violence?” The databases work differently and require some advance planning. A better search would be: “violence” and “video games” and “aggression” to answer a research question of, Does violence in video games cause aggression?

3) This answer relates to the above: Many students do not understand how to create a good research topic. Students approach me at the reference desk and say things like, “I want to write a paper about animal rights.” Okay, good (broad) topic, but your topic needs to be more focused in order to search for information and write a good paper! We spend a lot of time teaching students to break down topics and showing them how to brainstorm to get on the right research path.

4) The majority of our incoming students do not know what a scholarly journal is, yet these are sources that they will be required to use in various college courses like Biology, Psychology, Sociology, and so on. I spend many lessons teaching students the importance of journals (access to the most academic and current information available, written by experts), as well as how to identify a journal article (which varies according to subject).

5) While many students have some background knowledge of MLA citation, I find that they need a better emphasis on keeping track of sources. Every NCC student has to take English I, where they will write a major research paper, as well as other classes that require research assignments. I observe students struggling with missing sources or incomplete citation information. Students will use either MLA citation style or APA citation style while attending NCC, so knowing the basics of citation is an important skill.

6) Finally, many students do not understand that research is a process–you don’t just pick the first article you come across during your first search attempt. Once you identify a focused topic and write a thesis statement, it will take a few searches before you find the best keywords and most helpful material. I often see students writing an entire paper before they try to find sources–you should really be looking at sources before writing! Otherwise, how do you know which information to use to back up your arguments? There are specific steps to research and sometimes you have to try a few searches, supporting ideas or keywords before going down the right path.

Christine Roysdon, Director for Collections & Scholarly Communication Lehigh University:
We had a discussion of your question at a meeting this morning. Here are thoughts from the group:

Students should be able to interpret citations, for example, to distinguish between a citation for a book, a journal article, or an article In a book. Use Purdue’s OWL. School librarians might want to consider the EasyBib school edition and its tutorials. Learn an elementary citation management tool.

Understand the role of the University librarian in terms of in-depth disciplinary research help. Learn that the librarian can interact with you in both shaping the research topic and guiding you to the best resources. Understand what resources are available before embarking on a project (final selection of topic, e.g.)

Understand the difference between scholarly peer-reviewed journals and magazines. Learn what peer-reviewed mean. Know that scholarly literature is created by the very university faculty they are about to meet!

Get some original research experience, in preparation for building relationships with faculty early on. Work with primary sources.  Learn how to tie earlier findings to their own ideas and original work.

Learn how to evaluate resources — Web resources, particularly — for scholarly content, reliability, currency and source. Understand that most current scholarly material is on the Web, but may be available only to subscribers.

Understand the basics of copyright and intellectual property. Learn how to avoid plagiarism.

LibGuides is a tool that is very popular in University Libraries and it would be good for students to become familiar with and use such guides before entering college.


3 thoughts on “The Skills Higher Ed. Professionals Wish High School Students would Acquire

  1. Kathleen Cusick says:

    Thank you so much, Karen, for sharing this insightful information! I am a middle school library assistant, pursuing my Master of Ed., Library Science Concentration, and hope to be working with this very information in the near future!

  2. […]  You can use many platforms.  LibGuides is excellent and used at many Universities – Google Sites is a free option, […]

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