Undergraduate Students with Strong Tendencies Towards Critical Thinking Experience Less Library Anxiety. A Review of: Kwon, Nahyun. “A Mixed‐Methods Investigation of the Relationship between Critical Thinking and Library Anxiety among Undergraduate Students in their Information Search Process.” College & Research Libraries 69.2 (2008): 117‐31.
KeywordsBibliography. Library science. Information resources
DOAJ:Library and Information Science
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Abstract<b>Objective</b> – To investigate the nature of the association between a student’s critical thinking disposition and the extent to which they suffer from library anxiety.<br><b>Design</b> – Standardized quantitative survey instruments and a qualitative content analysis of student essays.<br><b>Setting</b> – A state (publically funded) research university located in the southeast United States.<br><b>Subjects</b> – 137 undergraduate students enrolled in the Library and Research Skills course.<br><b>Methods</b> – Undergraduate students enrolled in the three‐credit course Library and Research Skills during the spring 2006 semester were invited to participate in the study. Of 180 students registered in the course, 137 volunteered to take part. Data collection took place in the first two weeks of the semester. Participants were asked to complete two standardized survey instruments: the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) and the Library Anxiety Scale (LAS). The purpose of the CCTDI is to “measure a person’s disposition to use critical thinking” (119). The instrument consists of seven scales: “truth‐seeking”; “open-mindedness”; “analyticity”; “systematicity”; “critical thinking self‐confidence”; “inquisitiveness”; and “maturity” (119). “Truth‐seeking” is a commitment to seeking answers even if the process proves difficult or reveals information outside of one’s belief system, “systematicity” is defined as an organized approach to problem solving, and “maturity” is the ability to make “reflective decisions when facing ill‐structured problem situations” (119). “Analyticity” refers to a subject’s ability to anticipate possible outcomes, “open‐mindedness” to being open to different points of view, “critical thinking self‐ confidence” to a belief in one’s own critical thinking skills, and “inquisitiveness” to “intellectual curiosity” (119). Participants scored 75 items using a six‐point Likert‐type scale.The LAS measures levels of library anxiety by asking students to respond to 43 statements using a five‐point point Likert‐type scale. The LAS is designed to identify perceived roadblocks to their students’ use of the library, including “barriers with staff” or staff who are not helpful, “affective barriers” or a lack of confidence in one’s research skills, “comfort with the library,” “knowledge of the library,” and “mechanical barriers” such as equipment that is difficult to use (119). In addition, participants were asked to write a 500‐1,000 word essay about their “most recent or most memorable experience of using the library and its resources to write a research a paper” (120). Quantitative data collected from the CCTDI and LAS was analyzed using statistical software and the content of the qualitative data generated by the student essays was analyzed to identify common critical thinking and library anxiety themes.<br><b>Main Results</b> – Only a small percentage (6%) of participants in the study were freshman (i.e., in their first year of study). The largest group was comprised of third year students or juniors (41.8%), followed by sophomores (27.6%) and seniors (21.6%). The participants ranged in age from 18 to 60, with an average age of 22.9 years. Over 68% percent were female.Overall, a higher percentage of study participants scored lower on the CCTDI across all seven scales than a normative sample of undergraduate students. A score below 40 on a particular scale is considered by the instrument developers to be an indication of weakness in that particular dimension of critical thinking. The participants’ mean score for each of the seven scales fell below this threshold. Areas of particular weakness were truth‐seeking (82% of students scored below 40), systematicity (63% scored below 40), and maturity (55% below 40).The researcher ranked the students by their total CCTDI scores, and then divided the subjects into three equal groups. The 37 students with the highest overall CCTDI scores were labelled the strong critical thinking dispositions (CTD) group. The 37 students with the lowest overall CCTDI scores formed the weak CTD group. The mean LAS scores of participants in each group were then compared. A higher LAS score is indicative of a higher level of library anxiety. Students with strong CTD demonstrated significantly less library anxiety than those with weak critical thinking dispositions (an overall mean score of 93.03 versus 111.13). When it came to the five dimensions of library anxiety, the difference in the mean scores between the two groups was greatest for staff barriers (30.88 for participants with strong CTD versus 38.20 for those weak CTD) and affective barriers (27.24 versus 32.94). The difference in scores for anxiety arising from mechanical barriers was lower (0.83), but still statistically significant (p<.05).According to Kwon, the analysis of the student essays uncovered widespread library anxiety among students regardless of their CCTDI scores, with many reporting that they felt lost when first approaching library research. Particular sources of anxiety were affective barriers (e.g., lack of confidence) and staff barriers. Students also reported that their anxiety made it difficult to think clearly about their search. Students with strong critical thinking dispositions in the areas of systematicity, critical thinking self‐confidence, and inquisitiveness were able to mobilize these skills to overcome their library anxiety and move forward with their research. Those who were able to move past their discomfort and activate their critical thinking skills reported a reduction in their overall anxiety. In some cases, the essays of students who had scored low on the CCTDI demonstrated increasing levels of anxiety as their search progressed and a failure to use critical thinking to overcome the challenges encountered during the research process. The researcher expressed these findings in “The Interactive Model of Critical Thinking and Library Anxiety” (125). In the model, students initiating a research project (Stage 1) move into a state of library anxiety (Stage 2) that impedes their cognitive skills (Stage 3). Stage 4 is the critical juncture at which the student’s critical thinking disposition is activated or not. If it is activated, students are able to access their critical thinking skills (Stage 5), lessening their anxiety (Stage 6) and resulting in the successful completion of work relating to their task (Stage 7). If the disposition is not activated, their critical thinking skills remain hampered (Stage 5) and anxiety increases (Stage 6), preventing the successful performance of their task (Stage 7).Students also reported in their essays that their critical thinking skills improved as they gained more experience with the library research process, and that positive encounters with library staff resulted in lower levels of library anxiety.<br><b>Conclusion</b> – The quantitative analysis of the CCTDI and LAS results suggest that there is a negative association between critical thinking dispositions and library anxiety. The qualitative data also seems to imply that those with strong critical thinking dispositions are able to reduce their levels of library anxiety through their ability to work through problems in a persistent and methodical way, although further research is required to validate all the steps in the proposed model.The evidence also suggests that a student’s emotional state plays a key role in his or her ability to think critically and problem solve, and demonstrates the importance information literacy instructors should place on cultivating students’ confidence in their own skills when preparing them for research success.
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