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Science Information Literacy and First Year Students

January 30, 2019

In May 2018, I was hired as the new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Librarian at the Penn State Harrisburg Library.  I have always had a love of and a passion for science, which led me to a bachelor’s degree in biology years ago.  I have been working in libraries for close to ten years and while I enjoy working with students in all disciplines, I have a particular, nostalgic affinity for undergraduate science students.  I remember those classes, those assignments, and those expensive textbooks.  It is a familiar world and one that I truly enjoyed.  In my new role as the STEM Librarian on campus, I am always looking for opportunities to share my love of science with undergraduate students.

Recently our campus’s quantitative skills coordinator approached me with an idea that led to a general discussion about science literacy, diversity in STEM fields, and our shared love of science.  As we were chatting, we decided to create a first year seminar presentation geared toward science majors on our campus.  I am interested in science literacy and science information literacy and she is interested in studying tactics and resources for undergraduate students.  It seemed like the perfect collaboration for us and over the past few weeks, we have been brainstorming our presentation together.

Admittedly, I have a few lofty questions that I consider when I work with undergraduate science students.  What are their feelings about science?  Do they understand science in a general sense?  Do they trust science?  How does this trust (or distrust) manifest in their personal lives?  In their educational careers?  I recognize that this first year seminar session will not be sufficient to answer all of the questions I have.  However, it is a good place to start for now.

Our plan is to begin the session by discussing junk science vs. legitimate science, how to locate relevant and trustworthy information, then allowing the discussion to chart the rest of the course.  With a few planned stops relating to the ACRL Framework along the way.  We are also designing a science related activity in which the students will gather in groups to complete the exercise.  Our current idea is to present a problem and ask the students how to work through it utilizing the library resources at their disposal.  For example, let us say that the students were given the OK to create a community garden on the roof of their dorm building.  What plant(s) will they choose and will they grow in Central Pennsylvania?   Do they have access to electricity or a water supply on the roof?  If no, how will they design a system to ensure the garden is properly maintained?

Our hope is that this activity will appeal to all of the student participants.  Perhaps the student is a biology major with an interest in botany.  Maybe the engineering students in the session figure out a novel way to transport water onto the roof.  The math student uses her geometry skills to create the optimum greenhouse layout for the roof size.  We will be asking the groups to share their findings and ideas with the rest of the class and I am looking forward to hearing all of the responses.  This session may not go as planned but sharing my interest in science literacy with even a few students will be meaningful for me.  A brief assessment questionnaire will be given to the participants at the end of the session.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that the responses will assist me in making this one of many first year seminars geared toward STEM related library resources. Additionally, I hope it will open the gates to future discussions surrounding science information literacy on our campus.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. johnmeier1 permalink
    January 30, 2019 7:21 pm

    Great plan for the session, Andrea. I think it will be appropriately challenging for the students. There may even be opportunities once you get comfortable to expand these types of sessions to non-majors. Jay Hosler at Juniata found that Comics (in his case) increase knowledge and respect for Science among non-majors (“Are Comic Books an Effective Way to Engage Nonmajors in Learning and Appreciating Science?” CBE—Life Sciences EducationVol. 10, No. 3)

    • Andrea Pritt permalink
      February 5, 2019 4:07 pm

      Hi John, Thanks for passing along this article citation. I will definitely check it out!

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