Jenn and I have been reading a recent report published by Project Information Literacy titled Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Research Once They Enter College.  I think we both have taken ideas away from this report, and here are some thoughts from the perspective of a librarian.

For me, this report makes me see that I have underestimated the degree to which first-year students struggle to make that transition from high school to college.  When it comes to college level research, most freshmen — and particularly freshmen in their first semesters — are not prepared for the demands of college level research.  The report lists the areas that cause most issues for freshmen:


Many students report that they could successfully complete research at the high school level simply by relying on Google and Wikipedia.   While some continue taking that approach unaltered in college, many look to add to their “research toolkit” to meet the expectations of their college professors.

Indeed, the report was able to identify what it calls “adaptive strategies” that freshmen undertook to adjust to the higher expectations of college research.  Those of us far removed from the first-year experience may take these strategies for granted, but for the uninitiated they represent critical steps forward and they are sometimes difficult to discover and implement.



Looking over this list, it becomes apparent to me that there are strategies we can employ in the library (and the classroom) to direct freshmen toward these adaptive strategies and help them build this new toolkit quicker and more effectively.

And building on the advice of our Provision colleagues from last year, I am working on making one small change to improve the effectiveness of instruction.  I have been fortunate to be working with Jenn and her ENG 105 class.  She has created a flipped classroom (one big change!) and I will be playing a small part by creating a video series to address point #4 above.  We will try to push this competency into the first semester for her students, and we will work in the classroom to give them practice working with a bibliography and locating cited sources.

Learning the Ropes points toward many areas where we can intervene and address challenges faced by our first-year students.  Next up: one more small change!

Documents referred to in this post: 

Head, Alison J., Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College (December 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: or




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