Practicum Week 3: Growing Lifelong Learners

My big question this week stems not just from my experience at Hampton, but what I have observed at my job as a part-time librarian at a nationally-known technical college.  As a librarian, one of my responsibilities include helping students with research and using the school’s virtual library.  Unfortunately, most of the time, I am helping people print, getting them textbooks from the school bookstore, and resetting forgotten passwords, etc.  Plenty of students struggle with research, but I was told by my supervisor when he hired me that I was to only help with research when my help is sought, since all of these students are adults and should be responsible for their own learning.

Last Friday night, I watched a group of adult students tackle a research project assigned by their teacher.  They were frustrated because the assignment was poorly worded and the last thing they wanted to do was stay at school on a Friday night trying to appease their instructor.  They complained loudly about how they a) didn’t know what the teacher wanted, and b) didn’t know what kind of articles they were supposed to get from the net.  After about a half an hour of listening to this, I broke the rule and went over to ask them if I could help.  I asked them about their research topic, but the ones that answered me were vague.  When I asked to look at their assignment closer, so I can point them in the right direction (something in addition to simply “googling”), no one took up my offer.  They said they “just want to get it over with”, and that they “didn’t care any more”.  The one student that attempted to use the virtual library and database during her research was mocked by her peers — “Why would you bother with that thing?” one classmate taunted.  I went back to my desk.  About an hour later, most students started writing their paper (due that night!), even though they were all still saying to each other they didn’t care, or had any clue as to what they were doing.  They joked about making the font size bigger, changing the margins, and double-spacing everything so they could meet the page requirement more easily.

This same week, I helped a group of 3rd graders do research at Hampton.  Their teacher let them choose any topic they liked, but after conferring with the librarian, added that they needed at least 3 print resources and one article they can access through the Michigan Electronic Library (similar to TEL).  Jenny and I taught the kids how to use the OPAC, as well as how to access kid-friendly databases through MEL.  For the most part, the students seemed to enjoy the research process, and were not afraid to ask for help when they couldn’t find something they needed at the library.

My question is — where did this huge discrepancy between 3rd graders and adult students come from, in terms of their attitude towards learning?  Both groups were given an assignment they had to do — but the adults’ poor attitude really surprised and discouraged me.  Why were these adult students so resistent to the type of 21st century learner skills, dispositions, and responsibilities that we have learned about?  When does this happen, and how do we prevent it from happening to our children?  Maybe some of these adult students never acquired, or were ever taught, these learning habits or attitudes?

It puts an urgency in my mind about incorporating these standards when the students are young and still moldable.  I would hate to see my own kids adopt the kind of attitude towards learning that these adult students have — that it’s better to take the easier way out, that it doesn’t matter what they turn in, as long as they pass or meet the minimum requirements.  It scares me to think that these same people are in the workforce.  How will their lack of effort/caring be reflected in what they do?  It further convinces me that our job as librarians, media/information specialists, information seeking professionals, etc. are more valuable than ever, because it is our responsibility to grow and shape students into the type of lifelong learners who CAN in fact be responsible for their own learning and personal growth.

Any thoughts?

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