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Things we know about how information works that our students do not (yet)

Sometimes when I teach first year students how to use a book (the table of contents and index are the “google of the book” telling you what’s inside and where to find what you want) I get shocked looks from profs. In fact, last week one prof argued gently with me that I was surely mistaken that this kind of thing was news to our first year students. Surely they know how books work, how periodicals work, or that encyclopedias are often ordered alphabetically.

Well, thank goodness for Barbara Fister who just started compiling a list of just these kinds of things, where we have a tacit understanding of how information works but our students do not. Everything on her list resonates strongly with me and my experience of first and second year students.

Go read it! Tacit Knowledge and the Student Researcher

Published inFirst Year StudentsTeaching and Learning


  1. Lee Lee

    I’m forever grateful to the bright and inquisitive law student who had the courage to ask, after we’d identified several books that might be helpful for his research paper, how he would know, without reading the whole book, whether it in fact contained information useful to him. That’s when I realized that many students might not know how to “operate” a book, and began routinely (and subtly)demonstrating tables of contents and indexes. (“And of course you know you can get an overview of the structure of the book from the contents in the front…,” etc.)

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