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The Influence of the School Media Specialist’s Role on Students’ Attitudes and Performance in the Research Process

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The Influence of the School Media Specialist’s Role on Students’ Attitudes and Performance in the Research Process

Many high school students at all achievement levels fail in the research process due to the frustration and anxiety that arise from their inability to efficiently locate and manipulate resources. This frustration causes them to perform poorly and in some cases to abandon the process. At the same time, the media specialist’s training and expertise are under-used by both teachers and students. All classes of male and female 11th grade students of all ability levels will be subjected to two different styles of bibliographic instruction prior to beginning their research papers. At the time the assignment is given they will be given a questionnaire that measures their attitudes at various stages of the process. A correlation between attitudes and grades is hypothesized. The conclusion drawn from such a correlation is that an active bibliographic instruction role reduces students’ frustration and anxiety in the research process and thus, positively influences grades.

Introduction To address the problem of failure in the high school research paper process, the method of bibliographic instruction is one of several factors that can reasonably be examined. If BI is, indeed, a relevant factor, it may then be postulated to extend its influence to other areas that may have a contributory role in students’ success or failure in the process.
Statement of the Problem The research process for high school students is a demanding one. It is required by several teachers in several disciplines. The instructor may require a product without teaching the process. There is not always consistency--even within the same discipline--in what is expected or required: While one instructor may allow students to select their own topics, another may adamantly insist that students select from their list--or they may even assign a topic. Moreover, especially during his or her senior year, the student may be juggling two research assignments at one time. Compounded by the fore-mentioned contingencies, this can be a frustrating and overwhelming prospect. Students fail in the research process at an alarming rate. These students are not necessarily those who are “slow,” whose attendance is irregular, or who have a history of poor school performance. They are, quite often, at least average in ability and achievement. They are impeded by feelings of frustration, intimidation and anxiety that hinder and overwhelm them and often abort their efforts (Joseph, 1991). It is the observation of the researcher that this phenomenon has a lengthy history, is widespread, and shows no sign of abating--surely there is no inherent or naturally occurring solution. It can have a devastating effect on students, and it frustrates teachers as well. There is a large body of evidence that supports the researcher’s observation, clearly indicating that this is a pervasive problem and thus, demands our attention.

Literature Review In an inner city school setting students typically lack research skills and training is a critical need because they do not know how to seek information and sometimes have a fear of the library (Burdick, 1998, Oberman 1998, Joseph, 1991). The research process, typically initiated by bibliographic instruction, has a significant impact on students. The style and emphasis of BI can conceivably set the tone and pace of students’ overall research experience (Perkins, 1996). Anne Fox (1998) concludes that the preponderance of research supports the need for continued BI and relates it to feelings of “empowerment and satisfaction for users.” She extends this theory to a need for the more personal reference interview being regarded and constructed as a personal BI session. The study conducted herein is in agreement with Fox, in terms of the need for continued and personal bibliographic instruction. The emphasis here, though, is on the need for a more structured, interactive, group format, which include a librarian partner for support (Holmes & Lichtenstein, 1998). According to Information Studies professor Joy McGregor (1999), students become intimidated by the demands of research when they must conduct such research without instruction in the process. This intimidation is compounded by their not knowing that such feelings are natural at particular stages of the process. But McGregor goes on to theorize that student behavior during the research process often depends largely on the media specialist’s role, and that the media specialist must therefore be directly involved with student information gathering and use. That belief is continued in this research and furthered to address negative feelings (resulting from lack of instruction) throughout the process. That students’ attitudes impact their performance has been concluded by and recognized in research for some time. This is no less true for performance related to library assignments than for any of the content areas. At least since the mid- 1980’s attention has been given to the theory that students’ attitudes about the library experience have a profound and lasting effect on their academic orientation. Carol Kuhlthau reported on a series of studies in which she identified six stages of the research process and the affective symptoms (both positive and negative) that students typically experience at each of those stages (1989a). Based on one of the studies in that series, Kuhlthau theorized that the way students go through the research process affects their written presentation. In another study that same year, Kuhlthau positively correlated a rise in students’ confidence levels to higher grades on their papers (1989b). Confidence and other affective symptoms such as satisfaction and eagerness are examined in this study. Various BI styles are acknowledged as being relative to variations in personality, school structure, expertise, etc (McLaren, 1999, Feinman 1993). Consistent with the hypotheses in this study, enthusiasm is indicated as a key to student success. McLaren extrapolates the need for such enthusiasm from beyond the students’ regard for the lesson to the importance of the media specialist presenting a collaborative rather than lecture-style session in order to help build interest and enthusiasm. This investigation is embarked upon, then, with a few basic premises:
1. Media specialists have the ability to differentiate between various styles of BI.
2. The media specialist’s role (BI style) can be manipulated at her own discretion or upon the request of the teacher/colleague. This proposal focuses on two learning theories: social learning and self fulfilling prophecy. Social learning deal with the adults attitude toward the child (Bandora, 1977, Bandora & Walters, 1963). Self fulfilling prophecy is teacher treatment of students and student believing in teacher (Brehm & Kassin 1996, Thomas 1928).
Theoretical Framework The social learning theory of Bandura emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Bandura (1977) states: "Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action." The basis of a self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP) is that once a student has been pegged ahead of time, the chances are increased that a teacher's treatment of the student will help the negative prophecies or expectations come true. SFP can work to the detriment or benefit of the student, depending on the type of predictions and expectations.
Based on consideration of several theories and investigative studies, the researcher will investigate two hypotheses:
H1: The role of the library-media specialist in bibliographic instruction directly affects students’ attitudes towards the research process.
H2: Students’ attitudes towards the research process directly affect their performance. To summarize these hypotheses, the researcher simply theorizes that an active BI role--the media specialist actively and patiently teaching students how to locate and access relevant information efficiently--has a positive effect on the students’ attitudes towards the research process. The converse of this theory is implied when the media specialist takes a minimal role. The second theory is also related to student attitude: The researcher believes that students’ attitudes have a direct correlation to their performance--i.e., that if their attitudes are positive, such is reflected in higher grades; if their attitudes are negative, such are reflected in lower grades. The implication, then, is that media specialists are able to influence students’ grades by their style of bibliographic instruction.


The media specialists and BI styles or roles referred to in this study are defined by one of two terms: An active BI role includes (usually) three sessions held prior to students actually beginning their search process. These sessions include interactive instruction and the demonstration of databases, the OPAC, and other library resources, both print and electronic. A minimal BI role will consist of an approximately 10 minute general overview of various print and electronic resources prior to students beginning the search process. The research process as defined by McGregor (1999) consists of two major stages: searching for the information and using the information. This definition is applicable in the realm of school assignments.

Research Design

The paradigm for this study is quantitative. The method is a true experiment, marked by random assignment and the manipulation of at least one independent variable. As such, it follows a deductive form of logic, having begun with testing already-established theories. Within the framework of the experiment the variables derived from those theories are operationalized.

Prior to the investigation the researcher will discuss the experiment with the media specialist and inform her of the expectation of different BI styles. As with teachers, students will respond differently to different personalities of media specialists. Thus, it is important, in the interest of validity that all groups receive instruction--whether active or minimal--from one individual. Two levels of treatment will be applied to the experimental groups (one to each group). The first level of treatment (T1) is the media specialist’s performance of an active BI role. In these sessions the students will complete very brief exercises which require them to use various resources, determine efficient search strings and methods (electronic databases). Their own topics (where possible) will be used for examples. The second level of treatment (T2) is the media specialist’s performance of a minimal BI role. This will consist of an approximately 10 minute general overview of various print and electronic resources. Students will simply be referred to the sources. No instruction in their use is offered.

Both treatments will be applied within a very close time frame, with T2 being performed on the third and final day (of three consecutive days) of T1. Half of the classes will be labeled Group 1 and half will be labeled Group 2, and each class will be randomly assigned to a treatment. “Labeling” is only used in this study for the purpose of identifying subjects for the researcher. Students will not need to be referred to or addressed in terms of these labels. Students will proceed as they normally would toward completion of their papers--working in class, gathering and assimilating information, and seeking individualized BI--according to and consistent with their academic orientation. There will also be a test/retest method for students in T2 only receiving a minimal BI role. Before they are retested they will be given an active BI role.

Data Collection Methods

At the onset of the research assignment students will be given a questionnaire which measures their attitudes about the research process at each of four stages: when the assignment is given; immediately following BI; at the organization and evaluation stage; and when the final writing process has begun. Students will retain the questionnaire in their possession until their research papers are returned, since there is no means of collecting them and returning them at each stage. The questionnaire will be finally collected when the research papers have been graded and returned. The researcher will collect the questionnaires from the teacher at an agreed upon time.

An assistant who will be trained while the researcher is waiting for the questionnaire to be completed will code data. Because of the relatively small number of responses, one part-time assistant will be expected to easily manage the task. The researcher is also interested in personally perusing and coding data. The training of the assistant should occur very close to the final collection so that the coder easily retains the directions. The questionnaire is simple and the coding sheet is straightforward and self-explanatory, though, so there should be little chance of error. The researcher will remain available to answer questions.


There is one very short, simple eight-item questionnaire for this experiment. The questionnaire was designed by the researcher so that the items accurately speak to the specific variables being tested. Bias is controlled for. For example, there are no references to BI (or library instruction, which would be a more familiar term to students) or the librarian, which may signal students as to what is being measured and thereby influence their answers and cause skewed results. The teacher provides the time--of which very little is required--for completing the questionnaire in class. This lends the opportunity to encourage honesty in responses.

The coding method selected is efficient and both time- and cost-effective. It will reflect the results of the study on a coding sheet from which responses can be clearly summarized or fed into a computer program for statistical analysis.

Data Analysis

Once coded, data will be analyzed by utilization of SPSS--Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. The data collected to test these hypotheses will be measured by a nominal scale. The researcher seeks to place individuals in categories, such as High Positive Responses/High Grade, or High Negative Responses/Low Grade. Overall confidence levels will be measured and correlated to the variables as well. Although a nominal scale is used to measure the mode, there will be no measure of central tendency, as the researcher is not seeking a single category or number by which to label the participants, but is attempting to show and describe a correlation.

Since descriptive statistics also measure relationships between variables, the researcher will calculate to compare percentage differences and for frequency distributions to determine how many persons fall into each category for each variable. Finally, a chi-square test will determine whether or not there is a statistically significant relationship (correlation) between categorical variables.

Human Subject Information

Students selected for this study will be taken from a target population of students at an
Inner City High School. The school has an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The sampling frame is established by means of a list of all 11th grade classes. All of these students are 16 to 18 years old. When selecting a grade level that has little chance of having experience with the research process controls for external validity. All students need to participate in the study at the same time and response to or rapport with the teacher can threaten internal validity. The teacher’s names will also not be included in the study. Also we will be using passive consent, meaning it will be put into the school newspaper that students will be taking place in this study and the parents will be informed via the paper. The questionnaires the students turn in will not bear any names or other identifying information.
Requested: $1500

Budget Justification: The expenses associated with this project are personnel costs and the

cost for xeroxing. The data is to be collected by English teachers’ in the form of a

questionnaire. The students just think the questionnaire is apart of their assignment. A

Assistant will be the one coding the data via a form that I will provide. The Xeroxing will

be done at school and we will make about 245 copies that will roughly be about $0.10 a copy,

for a total of $24.50. The questionnaire’s will be collected when students turn in there research

projects by the English teacher. I will then take those sheets and pass them on to my media

assistant who will have to work overtime to code the data. The media assistant will only be

needed for the last four weeks.

Time Chart

|Wk. 1 |Wks. 2-3 |Wk. 4 |Wk. 5 |Wks. 6-9 |Wks. 10-12 |Wk. 13 |Wk. 14 |
|Jan. 10 |Jan. 17 |Jan. 31 |Feb. 7 |Feb. 14 |Mar. 14 |Apr. 4 |Apr. 11 |
| | | | | | | | |
|Send a letter to |Wait for |Meetings with |Observe the three |Students complete |Wait for teacher to|Code data and |Share results |
|HS newsletter |Newsletter to go |principal, media|Active BI’s |research* |indicate that the |analyze results |with principal, |
|office |home |specialist, and | | |papers have been | |media |
| | |teacher | | |graded and returned| |specialist, and |
| | | | | |and question- | |teacher |
| | | | | |naires collected | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | | | |Question-naires | | | |
| | | | |completed at each | | | |
| | | | |of four stages | | | |
| |Make appt. to meet | | | | | | |
| |with principal, | | | | | | |
| |media specialist, | | | | | | |
| |and teacher | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | | |Observe the | | | | |
| | | |Minimal BI which | | | | |
| | | |occurs on Day 3 of| | | | |
| | | |Active BI | | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | |[Make a | | | | | |
| | |tentative appt. | | | | | |
| | |to share results| | | | | |
| | |(see Wk. 15)] | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | | | | |Collect | | |
| | | | | |Question-naires | | |
| | | | | |from teacher | | |

*This time parameter is determined by the teacher.

Bandura, A. & Walters, R. (1963). Social Learning and Personality Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Brehm, S. S., & Kassin, S. M. (1996). Social Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Burdick, T.A. (1998). Pleasure in information seeking: Reducing information aliteracy. Emergency Librarian, 25, 13-17.

Feinman, V.J. (1993). Bibliographic instruction: A basic guide. Computers in Libraries, 13, 63-68.

Fox, A. (1998). Reference is BI. OLA Quarterly, 4, 6-7.

Holmes, B.D. & Lichtenstein, A.A. (1998). Minority student success: Librarians as partners. College & Research Libraries News, 59, 496-498.

Joseph, M.E. (1991). The cure for library anxiety--it may not be what you think. Catholic Library World, 63, 111-114.

Kuhlthau, C.C. (1989a). Information search process: A summary of research and implications for school library media programs. School Library Media Quarterly, 18, 19-25.

Kuhlthau, C.C. (1989b). Information search process of high-, middle-, and low- achieving high school seniors. School Library Media Quarterly, 17, 224-226.

McGregor, J. (1999). Teaching the research process: Helping students become lifelong learners. NASSP Bulletin, 83, 27-34.

McLaren, S. (1999). Dusty old books: A collaborative approach to bibliographic instruction. College & Research Libraries News, 60, 388-391.

Oberman, C. (1998). The Institute for Information Literacy: Formal

Perkins, M.J. (1996). Bibliographic instruction? More than ever! The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 22, 212-213.

Thomas, W. I. (1928). The child in America. New York: Knopf training is a critical need. College & Research Libraries News, 59, 703-705.

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