By Patrick R. Labelle (Concordia University)
It seems that using focus groups and surveys to improve services is a persistent theme of all the sessions I’ve attended this year and Patrick Labelle’s is no exception. This session explores the difficulties and challenges of international students at our institutions and what we can do to make their lives a bit easier through our instruction. A focus group of international students was the selected methodology.
The outline of the session includes definition, previous experiences, purpose & methodology, findings, study limitations, discussion & next steps.
Definition of international students: usually only a fairly small portion of the student body. Information research behaviour is a small but growing field of study of how one goes about finding information.
Audience question: what are some of our experiences & impressions of international students: they want to know the best information, language difficulties, important to build a personal relationship with them, they are eager to learn, reluctant to ask at first then will come repeatedly, cultural context in assignments is important, want to help themselves, very achievement oriented, want to know how to cite sources.
Purpose & methodology: Objectives to learn about past and current experiences with library and to improve instructional suport. Focus groups in March 2007, 2 groups, questions on library use and research process, and a short concluding survey. Explored 6 themes, from general to specific.
Theme 1: Past experiences: all had experience with open stack systems, usually with poor study spaces; use of lib was from research and leisure purposes; online resources were limited in prev exp and not available off campus; focus on print material and books.
Theme 2: Home vs. Concordia: CU has more study spaces, better hours, more computers; better online resources and better services such as ILL and reference.
Theme 3: Difficulties with Concordia: can’t really use book & video collection for leisure (magazines, novels, videos), LC organization not obvious at first; size of library is overwhelming; what are course reserves; too many options.
Theme 4: Searching for information: Few obvious differences here, mostly grads vs. ugrads. Ugrads very haphazard, trial and error, web is preferred starting point, only turn to library when the web hasn’t yielded anything, all familiar with google & wikipedia, only a few with google scholar, poor understanding of eval of web resources. Not familiar with citation styles, needed to learn, Asian students needed to learn about plagiarism. Grad students realized they needed more sophisticated strategies and to use different types of documents.
Theme 5: Learning to use the library: Main methods used by more than one student: teachers, independent, friends, workshops. Other methods: web site, signs, org of library, tours, handouts, asking questions, librarian. Wish they had known sooner: off campus access, lib has more than books, ILL, using a biblio to find more refs. These observations are probably similar to non-international students too.
Theme 6: Suggestions for improving instruction: presentations with departments, info in student handbook, more portals.
Limitations: Timing of focus groups, need to get more ugrads, language issues, need to have a moderator and a note taker, need to use multiple techniques and use broader analysis.
Observations: reconsider assumptions: students are computer savvy. Avoid segmentation: not as different from other students as we think. Address reliance on web as a source. Talk about plagiarism. Use ESL, education and multicultural studies literature. Differences in learning styles across cultures. More research needed.
Posted by John Dupuis.