Bytes & Books, Fall 2013 (Volume 27, no. 2)

Q:You applied for an information literacy (IL) grant for ECON 361 Marketing Research. What motivated you to apply for a grant for this course?

A: Amy Abruzzi recommended that I think about incorporating IL into this course. Data is essential in marketing research, but too often, the goal is more about supporting foregone conclusions rather than testing a hypothesis. So it’s up to marketing researchers to push their clients to think about this process as a means of generating knowledge rather than an empty foundation for supporting a pre-conceived notion. Marketing research is also expensive. It’s a waste of money to simply create an appearance that there is data to support a desired conclusion. IL helps students become aware of these issues and others as they think more fully about the secondary data that others have collected as well as the challenges in gathering primary data. These are the skills that students can take with them after Lafayette, whether they are going into marketing, or really anything else.

Q: Amy Abruzzi led a session on data evaluation, during which students examined the data in two scholarly articles and traced back to the original data sets. How did it go? Do you think students understand data better after the class?

The class went really well. It helped students understand that lots of reports use the same original data source rather than collecting new data themselves. Students developed a better perspective and understanding of secondary data after the class, giving them better context for their collection of primary data. In their self-assessments, several students mentioned the three areas that Amy addresses in class regarding data evaluation: scope, availability, and quality. On the other hand, too many students mentioned that they did not trust secondary data. In the future, Amy and I will work to help students develop more a nuanced understanding of secondary data rather than just the idea that data is either “good” or “bad”. It’s important to question the sources but it’s equally important for them not to think the only good data is what they collect themselves. It’s important to use secondary data when it is available and is suitable for the researcher’s needs.

Q: In another class of yours, Marketing Science, you ask students to write about marketing and economics applications in the news. Why do you want students to relate what they learn in the classroom to what is going on in the business world?

In this class, we use models from intermediate microeconomics to study the way firms make decisions in marketing their goods. These models are fairly abstract. Having the students apply the models to different situations heightens their understanding of the models, the models’ relevance, and the usefulness of understanding a theoretical model. Students find articles in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, etc. and discuss how the stories fit with what we have been discussing in class. As a result, they also learn about a particular product or product line from many angles.

Q: Do you have plans to introduce information literacy components into future versions of this course or into your other courses?

Absolutely. Amy and I have already talked about what we should focus on next time. There is no question that working through the ideas of IL for my Marketing Research class got me to think about my other classes and how I might incorporate IL into them.

Q: What more do you think we—professors and librarians—could do to help students develop their critical thinking and information literacy skills?

I thought I was already getting plenty of benefit when Terese developed the session for Marketing Science, and then found out I could also work with Amy to enhance Marketing Research. Librarians have a broader knowledge of the available data resources (qualitative and quantitative) than most professors do, so having conversations with them can be very helpful, not just for writing classes with research components but also for classes that involve images, special collections, etc. The dialogue between librarians and professors, I think, will always lead to more ways to help students. It might be interesting for librarians to be invited to a department’s meeting once in a while to talk about the different projects they have done with members of that department or others.

Q: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement to give faculty who’re interested in building IL into their classes?

Again, I don’t think many professors know the extent of the library’s IL program. Just having a conversation with a librarian about a course syllabus and assignments and how IL relates to that class could open up possibilities for the professor to learn new things and to enhance students’ learning. As experts in a field, professors have spent some time developing a particular context for their understanding of that field. Information literacy is part of giving students the tools to develop and improve their own context for understanding.