While Student Success courses typically address many important skills such as time management and study strategies, there is another set of skills that are essential to student success but are unfortunately often missing from the curriculum. Teaching students how to find, evaluate, read and use scholarly sources will be of significant benefit to first-year students. Integrating the use of peer-reviewed research on student success topics into the course is an excellent way to address content while also providing students with much needed support in developing their reading, critical thinking, and information literacy skills.

Approximately 95% of college students report needing to use outside resources when writing a college-level paper, yet the skills needed to effectively do so are often not explicitly taught to students (Burton & Chadwick, 2000). Students report difficulty in searching for information, evaluating information, and reading and using information (Head, 2013). Many Student Success Courses partner with the library to assist students with searching databases to find information needed. However, a one-time visit to the library is not enough. Rather, ongoing collaboration between student success faculty and librarians is needed to develop student information literacy skills (Paterson & Gamsto, 2011).

In addition to finding and evaluating whether the source is credible and fits the purpose of the assignment, students also need significant assistance with reading and understanding high level scholarly sources such as peer-reviewed research. The student’s comfort level with reading the content will likely play a role in which sources are selected (Gray, 2012), which can ultimately impact the overall quality of the paper. The Student Success course is a perfect place to use peer reviewed research to teach students essential reading, critical thinking and information literacy skills. Professors can carefully select articles on student success topics (see Student Success in College: Doing What Works! for examples of brief, relevant articles). This shared content can then be used to develop skills.

To assist students with this challenging task, Student Success faculty can provide extensive support and resources. As a first step, professors can explain the different parts of a research article so students can begin to understand the type of information provided in this scholarly source. Tools such as screencasts or Adobe Pro can be used by faculty to create resources that show students how to search, evaluate, and read peer reviewed research. Using class time to teach the basics and allow students to practice these skills in small groups and individually is worthwhile. For example, after asking students to summarize a brief research study, students can discuss their work with a classmate. The professor can then review the study as an entire class, helping students learn how to extract the key findings. This rigorous yet supportive approach will most certainly assist students with achieving at high levels.


Note: Dr. Harrington’s text Student Success in College: Doing What Works! uses this approach. Every chapter has a peer reviewed research article on the chapter content and the online support materials (i.e. narrated “walk-throughs” of the articles; narrated PowerPoint presentations on the research based success strategies) provide students with the support necessary for success.

To see Dr. Harrington teaching her first year students about research, check out the teaching demonstrations (there are five 10-15 minute demonstrations) posted on her website: http://www.drchristineharrington.org. You can also find additional information on this topic in Dr. Harrington’s article “Using Peer-Reviewed Research to Teach Academic Study Skills in First-Year Seminars,” which was published in the October 2011 issue of eSource (go to page 15).

Dr. Christine Harrington is a Professor of Psychology and Student Success and Director of the Center for the Enrichment of Learning and Teaching at Middlesex County College in NJ. She is also the author of a new research-based freshman seminar textbook, Student Success in College: Doing What Works! Prior to teaching full time, she worked in the Counseling and Career Services Department, providing disability services and career, academic, and personal counseling. You can also visit Dr. Christine Harrington’s website.

Share your responses to Dr. Harrington’s article, as well as your own suggestions for teaching your students research and information literacy skills, below. 

Burton, V., & Chadwick, S. A. (2000). Investigating the practices of student researchers: Patterns of use and criteria for use of internet and library sources. Computers and Composition, 17(3), 309-328.

Gray, C. J. (2012). Readability: A factor in student research? Reference Librarian, 53(2), 194 205. Doi: 10.1080/02763877.2011.615217

Head, A. J. (2013). Learning the ropes: How freshman conduct course research once they enter college. Project Information Literacy. Retrieved from: http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_2013_FreshmenStudy_FullReport.pdf

Paterson, S. F., & Gamsto, C. (2011). Guiding students from consuming information to creating knowledge. Communication in Information Literacy, 5(2), 117-126.