Tag Archives: Research

Students and Research

StudentResearchStudents are savvy Web users, but still have problems finding, evaluating, and using information for research. Project Information Literacy  has found that freshman college students have difficulty starting a research project.

Here are some of the issues that students encounter during a research project:

  • Students struggle with writing research questions.
  • A limited scope of keywords can result in a frustrating search.
  • Students find it hard to navigate the many types of sources.
  • Students often limit the types of sources they use.
  • Students can be overwhelmed by information overload.
  • Students hesitate to ask for help.

It can be difficult to find relevant information and add new ideas to a topic when there is so much data out there. Teachers can encourage students to collect their own data via interviews or surveys. Teachers can focus on the importance of keywords for searching. One of the most important skills a student can develop is learning how to evaluate sources and develop analytical skills in the era of Big Data.

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein




Database Trial for ND, SD, and MN



If you’re a librarian or school teacher from one of the three ‘otas (North Dakota, South Dakota, or Minnesota), I strongly encourage you to take the time to explore the following database trials and provide your feedback.

This is your opportunity to participate in the selection process of the databases that will be available throughout the tri-state region for the next 3-5 years (beginning July 1, 2014). How do you participate? Simply by evaluating the databases and submitting your impressions. Be they good, bad, or meh, the Minitex Electronic Information Resources Task Force wants to know. Feedback must be submitted by April 2nd. 

Here’s the formal announcement: Continue reading

Touring the National Science Digital Library

NSDL logoThe National Science Digital Library is a free online resource that provides high quality online educational resources for teachers and students. The NSDL has a very strong focus on the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

What will you find in the National Science Digital Library? Tons of high quality instructional, research, and lab materials, alongside oodles of illustrative videos. The NSDL will guide you to content benefiting educators crafting lesson plans, students struggling to gain greater understanding of a topic, or anyone with an autodidactic bent.

One thing to be aware of before you start searching the National Science Digital Library is that they include resources appropriate for a huge range of audiences, from Pre-K through Higher Education, so you’ll likely want to set the Education level before searching, as illustrated below.


Choosing an Education level from the drop-down menu before you search helps ensure delivery of suitable results.

Another useful feature, is that educators can click on the Standards tab to locate resources that meet Common Core and other standards.


Unlike subscription databases offered by ODIN and the ND State Library, the National Science Digital Library is not itself a content silo, but rather they are a means of discovering online educational resources from other providers. The overwhelming majority of sites linked to from the NSDL are free and open resources, though there are some that require membership or subscription (I’m yet to stumble upon any of those while using it, though). 

The National Science Digital Library is funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the likes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Columbia University, and Cornell University.

North Dakota Oil Spill Report Repository

oilfieldIncidentsHere’s one for those library workers with reference responsibilities: the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Health Section and the Department of Mineral Resrouces’ Oil and Gas Division recently unveiled a new website to assist with research on oil spills within North Dakota and on the environmental impact of these and related incidents.

The site features three tables detailing environmental incidents directly related to oilfields. The tables provide an overview of the incidents as well as links directly to the incident reports.  Continue reading

How Do Search Engines and Databases Differ?


Search engines, like Google, Ask, or Bing index the Internet and use proprietary programs to match results to the user’s search terms. Search engines are free to anyone with computer access. Any person or group can produce a website and say anything they want, truthful or not. The CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose) must be applied to information retrieved from an Internet search engine. Search engines also retrieve more information than we can use and it is not organized. There is no quality control mechanism on the Internet; consequently, learning how to judge information on the Internet is an essential literacy skill.

Search engines are best for non-academic and general searches. Good stuff can be found on the Internet: current information, newspapers, pictures & images, statistics & government documents, pop culture, general reference information, products, services, or entertainment. Using search engines is a good way to start a project or get a main idea or a general topic.


Databases are purchased or subscribed to by libraries or schools. Information found in databases passes the CRAP test: it is current, reliable, authoritative, and the purpose is usually educational. Information found in databases is reviewed by scholars, researchers, or professors. Databases are usually targeted to a particular audience. There are databases for elementary school students, for scientists, for health & wellness, or family history researchers.

Library databases are most appropriate for academic research. Students can use databases to find resources for school papers, book reports, or school projects. Academic researchers use databases to find research papers, scholarly information, conference reports, or peer reviewed articles from academic journals. Database results are usually cited and are more manageable. Information retrieved in a database search will often give opposing viewpoints and link to additional resources.

Search engines and databases are tools. Choose the right tool for the task. It is not a question of exclusively using one or the other for your information needs. Both have value for finding information, depending on what type of information you are seeking.

“The first time I walked into a library, I got so excited I almost wet my pants.”  – Roy Blount Jr. (author)

Why Don’t Students Use the Library Databases?

These days, students get to high school or college with online search habits already formed. According to a Pew Research study, Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube are students’ first choices for finding information. Why? Because Google and Wikipedia are easy and simple to use and the results are immediate. Easy access to wanted information is the key.

Why don’t students use the online educational databases purchased by the library? The simple answer: There are too many obstacles getting to database information. First, students have to find the list of databases posted somewhere on the school or library website. Second, once the list of databases is found, students have to determine which of 50+ databases is right for their information needs. Third, students need to know a login and password to access the databases. Finally, 4 or 5 mouse clicks later, they arrive at the database search box and can begin research.

It is a vicious circle: Low usage of library databases endangers the budget for online educational resources; but students do not use the databases because of obstacles to easy access, which results in low usage statistics.

North Dakota’s most recent database subscription to Literati Public is a step towards eliminating obstacles to database information. Literati Public features discovery searching and geo-IP recognition. The discovery searching feature links the ODIN Catalog, the Literati reference collection, and the subscription databases from Gale, EBSCO, and ProQuest. The search box taps into all these resources simultaneously. Geo-IP recognition means that your Internet address (IP number) is coming from North Dakota, which has paid for access, so you are allowed entry without having to login.

Changing student search habits begins with easy access to library database information. Features like discovery searching and geo-IP recognition help remove obstacles to database research.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  –Albert Einstein

Brief Guide to Peer Review and Scientific Publication


Sense About Science just published this excellent guide to explain the peer review process and help people make sense of public debates about science and medicine. If you want to know more about peer review and research publication, or if you need a handout for students on how to analyze resource quality, dig in and enjoy!

How Teens Do Research

In 2012, the Pew Research Center conducted an online survey of teachers. They were asked what research sources their students are most likely to use. The top four sources students use are:  Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and their peers. Less than 20% of students use databases or librarians for research. 64% of teachers say today’s digital technologies do more to distract students than to help them academically.

The Pew study also noted that today’s students lack traditional, low-tech skills like reading printed reports, talking (not texting) on the phone, or conversing (not emailing) with a colleague at the next desk.

[Purcell, Kristen, et al. “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World.” Pew Research Center Report, November 1, 2012, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Student-Research]

The subscription databases provided by the ND State Library are credible sources for student research information. They are easy to search and provide a variety of citation formats. The challenge for teachers and librarians is to get our students to use them.

 “A library is richer than Fort Knox and everybody has the key.” (Robert Morgan, Author)