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Learning About First Year Students

The dynamics of research in our various liaison areas dictate that most of my co-workers work primarily with upperclassmen, and that I work with more freshmen and sophomores than with juniors and seniors. I used to feel a little left out of the “fun stuff” because of this split — a little jealous that my coworkers had more call to develop highly specialized knowledge and skills while I worked on basic things (like the fact that interlibrary loan exists, and that scholars publish in journals as well as books). But that only lasted as long as my naive assumptions about the complexities of working with first year students. Fall Term two years ago, those naive assumptions vanished, and ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the challenge of getting freshmen up to speed as quickly as possible. And just recently, I’ve learned a whole lot about my the target demographic of my special project.

  • Focus groups on our campus suggest that freshmen here don’t see research skills as generalizable across disciplines. Maybe our liaison model feeds this. Maybe our model just caters to it. Either way, that’s my cue to figure out how to make the skills and strategies I teach more explicitly transferable to other classes and research problems.
  • Our FYILLAA results were pretty interesting, too, showing that incoming freshmen (prior to having any classes at Carleton) *think* that tasks like citation or determining the scholarly-ness of a source are easy, but that they actually have a great deal of difficulty identifying scholarly sources or distinguishing between book, article, and essay citations.
  • And now I learn that first year students have other things on their minds, that they have to adjust to “daily life management” before being able to spend time developing their intellectual muscles.

What a range! Just the new stuff I’ve learned this term spans “transferable skills awareness,” the nitty gritty of getting your hands on stuff and navigating the scholarly literature, and the developmental project of adjusting to life on a college campus.