S. Burgin1, T. Webb2

1Bond University (AUSTRALIA)
2University of Western Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
Before the ‘electronic age’ students necessarily spent substantial time in the library where they routinely sought the support of academic librarians to source material for assignments. They would have thus been directed to appropriately rigorous academic material, and learned to deal with it. With this process, the student learnt at least some modicum of discrimination between academic and grey literature, and to take relevant notes to later use as the basis of writing their assignment. Increasingly, however, information on effectively any topic can be obtained as ‘grabs’ from a favourite web browser or other electronic media without accessing the support of trained staff or accessing the peer-reviewed literature. Partly because of the ease of accessing an overwhelmingly wide range of information on effectively any topic, much of it repetitive, I suggest that students typically ‘grab’ the first information they find relevant and, often, rather than taking notes, sections are downloaded into the very file that the assignment is written in. In addition to issues of plagiarism that is often the result of this approach of ‘note taking’, it also leads to a diminished ability to seek out and learn to deal with the academic literature because it is ‘… too hard to understand all that complicated stuff and Wikipedia has all the same information in a form I understand … ‘. With such comments coming even from the highest performing students, there are clearly issues.

To teach students how to interpret and summarise information from the academic literature, I allocated students in the subject ‘Restoration Ecology’ with a paper from the journal of the same name. Students had to develop a deep understanding of the research topic within the paper provided, summarise the information, prepare a poster, briefly introduce the information contained in the paper, and answer questions from the audience. Thus they were ‘forced’ to develop a deep understanding of a scientific project, summarise the information as the basis of a poster presentation, and be able to present and discuss the detail of the research. This assignment provided students with an additional opportunity for ‘active learning’ that engaged them in a collective dialogue and provided a forum for them to came together in an interactive and cooperative environment, and thus add another dimension to the multi-faceted range of student learning styles that I seek to provide for students. Students enjoyed the interactive and cooperative environment that was created, and all commented positively. For example, typical of the responses was ‘… I freaked out when I was given my paper, it was the hardest thing that I have had to do at University but I learnt heaps … it ended up being the most exciting and thrilling thing I’ve done … I wish more of my lecturers challenged us to develop our ability to deal with academic stuff and learn how to take notes properly …’.