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Faculty Toolkit

Research Skills That Transcend Disciplines

The Association for Research and College Libraries (ACRL) has been promoting an understanding of research skills that transcend a particular discipline. One of their major contributions to discourse on student learning of research skills is the idea that there are certain information literacy "threshhold concepts" that fundamentally change the way students understand research.

Research as Inquiry

​Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions, whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

What this can mean for Hostos students:

  • Students sometimes think the goal of a a research assignment is to find sources that confirm their existing beliefs. Even students who are more open to discovery may see research as merely locating the one right answer to a question that is simply defined from the outset--a conception that results in frustration when they don't find an easy answer.
  • By showing students that it's normal for an initial question to uncover more questions, we can encourage them to move beyond an intellectually limiting expectation of simple truth to embrace research as an opportunity to engage with complexity.

Information Creation as a Process

Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.

What this can mean for Hostos students: 

  • Students, when asked what Google does, will usually say it finds "information" or "answers"; rarely do they say it "finds websites
  • However, any critical interrogation of information has to begin with awareness that any text, be it a peer-reviewed article, an editorial, the "about us" page of any company, or a "clickbait" web article--has been produced by specific people and institutions, and has undergone an identifiable process of creation before being shared for particular purposes.
  • Without the awareness of information creation as a process, readers take all content at face value, or at best develop an unrealistic, strait-jacketed belief that all they read is simply "true" or "fake."

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Information resources reflect their creators' expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used.  Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.  It is contextual in that a reader's information need may help to determine the level of authority required for a given situation.

What this can mean for Hostos students:

  • The criteria for determining an "authoritative source" for students' research will depend largely on the kind of question they're seeking to answer.
  • When we help students consider why some information creators have more authority than others, and consider how context affects that evaluation, we strengthen their ability to read critically.
  • We can also help students to recognize that as researchers and writers, they are developing their own authority on a particular topic, and to realize that certain responsibilities come with that authority, such as seeking out accurate and reliable information and respecting others' intellectual property.

Information Has Value

Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a resource to meet a specific need, as a commodity, as a form of expression, as a means to influence, and as an avenue to navigate and understand the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination and help determine who has access to such resources.

What this can mean for Hostos students:

  • We can help students examine and understand the social, political, and economic contexts of information production and access. This knowledge will help them understand how and why some groups have been underrepresented or marginalized in particular discourses.
  • Students can also learn to make informed choices relating to online privacy and the commodification of personal information.
  • As producers of information in various media, students can recognize their own rights and understand their responsibilities for attribution, ethical use, and transparency.

Scholarship as Conversation

Knowledge is developed as communities of scholars, researchers, and professionals share insights, discoveries, theories, and questions from  different perspectives and interpretations.

What this can mean to Hostos students: 

  • Understanding scholarship as conversation, and the process of knowledge-building as both collective and embedded in time, can help students question a more rigid idea of truth as something that exists outside of human beings and that never changes. We can help students develop a more complicated understanding of the unending human quest for truth and the evolution of our shared knowledge.
  • Understanding that discourse is part of knowledge production also gives students insight into why scholars cite one another and, by extension, why they are being asked to cite their own sources. 

Searching as Strategic Exploration

Searching is a process of inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, and allows searchers to identify possibly relevant sources and the means to access those sources. It is often non-linear and iterative, and requires the evaluation of a range of sources, as well as the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.

What this can mean to Hostos students: 

  • Understanding scholarship as conversation, and the process of knowledge-building as both collective and embedded in time, can help students question a more rigid idea of truth as something that exists outside of human beings and that never changes. We can help students develop a more complicated understanding of the unending human quest for truth and the evolution of our shared knowledge.
  • Understanding that discourse is part of knowledge production also gives students insight into why scholars cite one another and, by extension, why they are being asked to cite their own sources.