Academic Exchange Quarterly Spring 2003 Volume 7, Issue 1
Collaboration Between the Library and Business Faculty
Maureen Beck has been Director of Library Services at Villa Julie for 3 years. Prior to that, she was a Web Coordinator, Reference Coordinator, and Resource Services Librarian at the Eisenhower Library at the Johns Hopkins University. Patricia Ellis is Professor of Law and Business Administration at Villa Julie, where she has taught since 1987.
Abstract: Collaboration between the library and the faculty of an undergraduate
academic institution can be beneficial for business students. This article discusses the experiences of a business librarian and business faculty member who team-taught a course in business research. It covers some of the content and applications of that material in developing students' knowledge and skills in Information Literacy, and includes a limited list of search engines used and a short list of the required outside readings.
The importance of critical thinking skills in the undergraduate library experience has been well documented. One popular mode of evaluating critical thinking ability in business schools is to require a student research paper analyzing a company or industry. At Villa Julie College, a small comprehensive college in Maryland, business faculty have developed good working relationships with their librarians, and manage to do a creditable job of incorporating research assignments into course design plans.
When students first arrive on campus, they are typically given a brief orientation to the library and its resources, ranging from print materials to electronic. Students often then receive a library instruction session later in their schooling when they are given a research paper assignment. Since a single session may prove to be insufficient for students, library staff may spend considerable individual time with students as they struggle with the assignment, and there may be some disconnection between what the faculty member expects and what they receive.
An alternative model in which collaboration between the faculty member and the business librarian extends to team-teaching an entire course on research affords a number of advantages: 1) it removes the onus from the faculty member to spend hours updating his or her skills in business research, since this responsibility resides with the business librarian; 2) the faculty member can step into the role of coach as students work on improving their research and critical thinking skills in the context of the course subject matter; 3) critical thinking and research skills are reinforced throughout the undergraduate experience; and 4) students learn valuable skills that they can take with them into their first professional career experience.
At Villa Julie College, one of the general Business program foci is on the development of research skills, encouraging students to learn where to find information in proprietary databases and generic Internet sites when they need to analyze a corporation. Electronic Research and Report Writing, a course developed in the late 1980s, was designed to teach students to use electronic and print sources specifically for business research. Initially, database services such as the Dow Jones and DIALOG systems were used in the course. Over the years, as the Internet grew and as students entered with more and more computer skills, the course has metamorphosed into one that increases students’ awareness of available Internet sources as well as subscription databases, such as Lexis-Nexis and Ebsco, as it develops their critical thinking skills. Students learn more than a set of technical computing skills: they learn “the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information," which is the definition of Information Literacy adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries [http://www.csusm.edu/acrl/il/intro/newil.html]. Knowledge and skills learned and used here are reiterated and applied in the program’s capstone course, in which teams of students analyze corporations and present their findings in an open forum. At Villa Julie, the same business faculty who co-authored this paper teaches the capstone (Senior Research).
According to the capstone syllabus, students reaffirm their confidence in the knowledge and skills that they have gained during their matriculation. Such a synthesis should demonstrate, for example, the abilities to analyze, to research, to solve problems creatively, and to write within disciplinary standards. Students are required to produce written documentation, in the form of an executive report, which is then presented orally. The course emphasis is on research and on the external environmental concerns managers must consider when making decisions. The primary focus lies on analytical content and synthesis of the business program, while writing style, as well as breadth and depth of research have a major impact on the success of the project.
Thus, the decision to team-teach the Electronic Research course transpired in the summer of 2001. The business librarian presented the primary content and research methodologies, and the business faculty member presented the practical application. This collaboration was effective because it allowed us to emphasize our respective strengths: The business librarian focused on the acquisition of independent information literacy skill sets which could be employed in students' careers after completion of the capstone course. The business faculty member emphasized the strategic application of information to business decision-making.
Pedagogy used to enhance classroom time included lectures, hands-on in-class exercises, teamwork assignments, papers, an annotated bibliography, tests and a final examination. The Courseware employed was the Blackboard system, a standard for the College, known locally as iClass. The syllabus, assignments, and links to supplemental electronic readings were available via iClass/Blackboard. Email and telephone contact supplemented face-to-face instruction. Some homework assignments and in-class activities were posted on the class bulletin board. Since the session was a short 7-week one, classes met each week for three hours. A chat room was scheduled for two hours during the day in mid-week, but was not successful. A post-course evaluation revealed that it would have been more successful in the evening or on weekends when students were working on assignments at home.
Northern Light, DIALOG, Ebsco’s Business Source Premiere, InfoTrac’s Business Index ASAP, Lexis-Nexis Academic, Hoover’s, and various Internet resources were analyzed by students and compared for their scope and quality as tools for business research. These electronic subscription databases were already available in the college library, and had been chosen by a team of librarians based on their high quality and utility for colleges, and also because they were reasonably priced for the academic environment. Students were given a lecture overview on each database, followed by group hands-on activities.
Readings were chosen from Millennium Intelligence by Jerry Miller (Medford, NJ: Cyberage Books, 2000), Web Wisdom by Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999), and The Internet Searcher’s Handbook by Peter Morville (2d Ed. Neal-Schuman, 1999). These works reinforced and enlarged on the classroom lectures. Miller’s book specifically focuses on business information sources and gathering techniques and illustrates their utility in assessing business competitors and gauging the environment. The other books, while less focused on business sources, described multidisciplinary research gathering and evaluation techniques for free Internet resources. The readings were brought into class discussions and the lecture and were included in the examinations.
Some of the recurring themes woven throughout the course included competitive intelligence and environmental scanning as business tools, knowledge management within the organization, information literacy as a skill for lifelong learning, publication cycles and their impact on information availability, evaluation for information quality including bias, organization of information, information in the public domain versus proprietary information sources, the invisible web, academic versus commercial information sources, strategic responses to change, and barriers to information gathering.
As each new resource was introduced to the class, the concept of bias in information emerged as a critical question to ask immediately as the student began the evaluation process. Questions were posed such as: Does this source emanate from the company itself, or from an organization with a bias either for or against the company? What other sources that we have covered would you choose to help create a balanced picture of the company? Is there another source to consult either to corroborate or disprove the information? Would you recommend this source to your supervisor in your place of work?
One applied thematic component was based on Michael Porter’s “Note on the Structural Analysis of Industries” using his five forces of competitive analysis. A second application theme was the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis used widely by businesses to develop short- and long-term strategies. Students were asked to locate and analyze research articles, classifying the information according to the model. This exercise challenged students to develop a working vocabulary of search terms to use in locating relevant analyses, since searching databases and web sites using the keywords SWOT or the phrase “structural analysis” can only yield the most superficial of search results.
The TILT tutorial on Information Literacy was used throughout the course as a refresher for the students on basic information literacy concepts taught in library instruction sessions throughout the previous two or three years at the College. TILT is available at http://tilt.lib.utsystem.edu/ and covers how to choose appropriate information sources, how to design a search strategy, and how to develop search terms, as well as how to evaluate information for quality.
Another independent assignment required students to subscribe to a high quality web review source to illustrate a painless way to remain current on newly published web sites with research potential. One recommended web review source was the Internet Scout Project available at http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/. Students were required to select and write about an online source that they discovered from their Internet Scout alert.
Both collaborative and individual activities were utilized. As the business librarian presented and described search engines for legal resources, government resources, and business resources, the business faculty member explained some of the ways that these sources could be applied to analyze a corporation: OSHA requirements, census demographics, competitive comparisons. Class discussion and lecture were routinely followed by exercises.
One regular assignment sent the class to known high quality web gateways and required two or more students to evaluate each one using standard guidelines and making a brief presentation at the end of the period. Students presented their reviews of the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) site, the International Trade Administration site, the Census Bureau web site, and the business portion of the Internet Public Library at the University of Michigan to the class. The following information was to be ascertained and used to project a level of confidence for the quality of the site: last update for the site, who or what is responsible for the site, is the domain commercial or nonprofit, and how easy or difficult is it to do a basic search? For sites with search engines, students also needed to demonstrate a simple query and discuss whether or not the results were what they expected.
There were other occasions for students to apply their new abilities in the current course under discussion. Since usability is one criterion for evaluating web sources, we provided students with an opportunity to test a web site under development at the College. Students were asked to test the College Admissions page and to send comments to the College Webmaster. The instructors followed up this activity with a discussion of usability as a concept in web site evaluation.
Working together, the business librarian and the business faculty member were able to draw on each other’s expertise in developing students’ critical thinking skills and in suggesting ways that the sources featured might be useful for their capstone experience as well as in their future careers. Both members of the teaching team learned something about each other’s areas of knowledge, and the students benefited from the interaction with experts throughout the course.
Alexander, Jan and Marsha Ann Tate. Web Wisdom. Mahwah, N.J. : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.
ASAE: American Society of Association Executives. American Society of Association Executives. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://info.asaenet.org/gateway/OnlineAssocSlist.html>.
Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Association of College and Research Libraries. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://www.ala.org/acrl/il/toolkit/standards.html>.
Export.gov. International Trade Association. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://www.ita.doc.gov/td/industry/otea/>.
The Internet Public Library. University of Michigan School of Information. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://www.ipl.org/>.
The Internet Scout Project. National Science Foundation. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://scout.wisc.edu/>.
Miller, Jerry. Millennium Intelligence. Medford, N.J: Cyberage Books, 2002.
Porter, Michael. Note on the Structural Analysis of Industries. Harvard Business School, publication 9-376-054. c1975, rev. June 30, 1983.
Texas Information Literacy Tutorial. The University of Texas System Digital Library. Accessed January 3, 2003. <http://tilt.lib.utsystem.edu/>.
U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Accessed January 3, 2003.