Bytes & Books, Spring 2016 (Volume 30, no. 1)

Q: You introduce IL in your FYS and intro-level art classes and also incorporate it into your upper level classes. Why do you teach students IL skills at different stages?

Students enrolled in my courses come from a variety of disciplines, including Engineering, English, Art, IA, Asian Studies, and Economics. The FYS provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce IL to students early in their studies. However, they need regular opportunities to use the knowledge they have gained. While my FYS students need to conduct research on the Silk Road and its economic, social, political, and religious impact, they rarely interact with images. Art history students must learn how to access high quality images, not just on Google, and to gather scholarly information that helps them to contextualize that visual data. Art historical research requires a multidisciplinary perspective and openness to various perspectives about the “meanings” behind art.

Q: What motivated you to apply for an IL grant for ART340 Senior Seminar in Art History?

ART340 is the capstone for senior art history majors. Art history majors who pursue careers in the field need strong research experience, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to provide that for them. When I was in college and graduate school, our professors often assumed that we knew how to research. I wish that my professors had taken the time to explain the process, which I largely learned on my own. Now that internet resources are so easily accessible, I am even more concerned that students do not know what scholarly information is available at the library and that they seem less and less aware of what constitutes a reliable source.

Q: You assigned several projects in ART340, including the assessment of museum web sites. How did they go?

Students seemed to like the variety of projects. More than one student mentioned how much she enjoyed the museum website assessment. This assignment corresponded to what students were reading in the course textbook. A number of chapters in the textbook dealt with major museum collections of Chinese paintings around the world. I divided the class into groups, each one responsible for museum collections in a specific region, such as Europe, Taiwan, Japan, and mainland China. Groups were then asked to assess how the websites of museums in their assigned region displayed Chinese paintings and how effective these sites (and their corresponding online exhibitions) were in teaching the public about these objects. In the future, I would like to allow for more time for this project and for students to present their findings about it.

Q: Could you talk about how you structured the final research project and the reason behind the sequencing?

Due to their numerous commitments, students tend to wait until last minute to begin their research projects, and the research sometimes lacks depth as a result. Students in ART340 were required to start their research very early in the semester, gathering and evaluating evidence from a variety of sources each week, including subject encyclopedias, peer-reviewed journal articles, academic books, and primary sources. By the 11th week of class when they submitted an annotated bibliography and abstract of their final papers, they were already very familiar with their topics and knew what sources were available to them. The final papers, as a result, reflected deeper research and analysis of the information that was gathered.

Q: Would you continue to incorporate IL into future versions of this course or other courses?

Absolutely! I am a firm believer in the need to educate students in all of my classes about the available resources and source evaluation. While I already build IL in all of my classes, I would like to enhance my FYS with the kinds of projects for the Chinese painting seminar. My FYS students write several short papers during the semester. The first writing assignment asks them to draw on primary sources and write a first-hand account of the life of a merchant or monk living on the Silk Road. While this assignment requires students to evaluate one type of source, I would like them to learn to evaluate a greater variety of source types during the course. I would like to do the same kind of research progression with weekly synopses of various source types leading up to their final group website project, looking at one of the major cities involved with Silk Road trade.

Q: All of your IL works involves a librarian. What are the advantages of collaborating with a librarian?

Lijuan Xu was actively involved in the development of this new course from the beginning. Working with her was instrumental in helping me to develop assignments that would effectively engage students with the research process and to educate them about what resources are available and what is a quality source.

Q: What do you think professors and librarians could do to help students develop their critical thinking and IL skills?

Honestly, I think that every class with a research component, even if it is a small one, should require at least one meeting with an instructional librarian. I am often shocked to hear juniors and seniors report to me that they have never used—or even heard of—JSTOR, Project MUSE, or OneSearch, and that they have no idea what Interlibrary Loan is. Students really ought to know the basic resources in the freshman year and be required early on to use them. As faculty, we could do a better job of educating our students on good research processes and what constitutes strong source materials. Librarians are key to educating our students about this!