In 2013, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the TRU Internal Research Fund to research the amount of time required to perform basic information literacy task by L1 and L2 students. In April of 2014 I collected the data and in July of 2014 I presented a preliminary analysis of the results to the annual Language, Culture and Community Research Institute at TRU.
In March of 2015, I presented a revised version of this analysis to the Learning At Intercultural Intersections Research Conference held at TRU. The following is based on that proposal that I submitted for that presentation. The PowerPoint presentation that I used is available here and an Excel file containing an anonymized version of the data on which the analysis is based is available here.
Performance of an Information Literacy Task by Library Staff, Domestic Students
and International Students
In this research, I timed librarians and students as they read a series of bibliographic records and answered multiple-choice questions about them. In order to take into account both time and accuracy, I calculated an inverse efficiency score (time divided by accuracy) for each participant. I found that domestic students whose first language is not English patterned with the other domestic students, and that international students who speak dialects of English significantly different from Canadian English patterned with other international students. Thus, the greatest difference in scores was not between L1 students (368) and L2 students (460), but rather between domestic students (340) and international students (518). These results indicate that librarians must be prepared to significantly adjust the pace of their interactions with international students, both at the reference desk and in information literacy workshops.
Librarians understand that they must slow down when teaching or assisting international students for whom English is a second or additional language. The question is, slow down by how much? If the librarian goes too slowly, the student may become bored and lose focus. However, if the librarian goes too quickly, the student may not have enough time to adequately process the information necessary for a thorough understanding of the research process.
In the literature on international students and libraries, there is a great deal of general advice on working with international students, but very little empirical evidence to support it. This research represents an attempt to ground Library practice in empirical research in a way that will enable librarians to provide better library service to international students.
For this research, I timed both library staff (n=12) and students (n=48) as they read a series of bibliographic records on a computer screen and answered paper-and-pencil multiple-choice questions about them. In order to take into account both time and accuracy, I calculated an inverse efficiency score (time divided by accuracy) for each participant. My hypotheses were that a) students would have higher inverse efficiency scores than librarians, and b) the inverse efficiency scores for students for whom English is a second or additional language (L2 students) would be still higher.
The first hypothesis was confirmed by the data: the mean score for library staff was 284 and the mean score for students was 410. However, the situation with respect to my second hypotheses was more complicated. Domestic students whose first language was not English patterned with the other domestic students, and international students who speak dialects of English that differ significantly from Canadian English patterned with other international students. Thus, the greatest difference in scores was not between L1 students (368) and L2 students (460), but rather between domestic students (340) and international students (518).
Librarians are, both by training and from extensive practice, very adept at extracting information from a bibliographic record and using it to decide whether or not an article warrants further investigation. The temptation for librarians in both instruction and reference situations is to move on to another task immediately, without checking to see that the student understands how the librarian has arrived at this decision. This is an effective and efficient way to conduct research, but not necessarily an effective way to help students become independent researchers. This research indicates that reference interactions with many international students can be reasonably expected to take up to half again as much time as reference interactions with fluent speakers, and also that information literacy instruction for international students can be reasonably expected to either take longer and/or cover less material than information literacy instruction for fluent speakers.