In his previous job as a writing instructor, Adam Blackwell, Senior Market Development Manager at ProQuest, realized that students faced many hurdles when it came to doing research and that they held many misconceptions. No matter what approach he and his colleagues took, Blackwell explained to LJ, many students named Google as a source of information, for example, rather than naming the source to which the search engine led them. They had great trouble deciding upon a topic to cover, and when asked would instead come up with very general subject areas that could not be covered in one paper. The students also thought that any serious source—Blackwell’s example was the New York Times—could fill the “scholarly resource” requirement set by their professors. Finally, they didn’t understand the concept of revision, viewing the task as done, said Blackwell, “once they had corrected the squiggly lines in Word” that indicated typos.
With these many problems in mind, Blackwell and his colleagues at ProQuest have for the past year and a half been working on an information literacy product that was released last week: ProQuest Research Companion (PQRC). It aims to address students’ puzzlement when it comes to research by providing them with tutorials and tools that will explain the process and make it easier. Device and browser agnostic, the service was initially intended for use by freshmen in community colleges and universities, but early on the team decided to also create material that high-school students could use. (See upcoming reviews in the January, 2014 issue of School Library Journal and the February 15, 2014 issue of LJ.)
While the aim of this product—improving information literacy—is similar to that of Credo’s Literati, the execution is somewhat different. Literati links to Credo’s extensive textual resources, whereas PQRC, says Blackwell, “maintains a laser-like focus on information literacy.”
Research Companion features two components: “Learning Modules” and “Tools,” with the first module addressing the most pressing problem found among beginning researchers: how to start. The developers recognized, says Blackwell, that “this is probably not the point where they need 20 peer-reviewed articles,” and with that in mind, the opening information is helpfully basic. The 2.5 hours of video provided across the selections covers foundational ideas such as choosing a topic, evaluating sources, figuring out what counts as evidence, avoiding plagiarism, and how to revise. The video on evidence, for example, explains how to distinguish evidence for a position from material that is merely consistent with it.
The resources in the “Tools” section draw from ProQuest’s other databases, and don’t require a subscription to those resources in order to access their information. Using “Topic Aid,” for instance—a feature that Blackwell explains was designed to be “as easy as Google”—students can enter a topic and receive an article about it from ProQuest’s eLibrary database. The item is chosen by PQRC’s editorial team as a comprehensive overview, and is accompanied by advice to students that this is not normally the type of article that would be cited in a paper; rather it is intended as background.
Also available are book, journal, and website evaluation tools that draw from the company’s Ulrich’s and Bowker records. As with the topic tool, the user’s library need not subscribe to Ulrich’s or Bowker, but by typing a journal or a book’s title, the user will receive information from those sources: metadata about the title, annotated with information on whether it is scholarly or not, and who owns it. A citation generator and a revision aid—which suggests corrections to text that users input—are both works in progress; ProQuest will monitor usage of them and make changes to their functionality accordingly, making the product one to watch.