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Group Projects for LIS510 are a Success
By Katy Shaw
November 21, 2002

During the second half of autumn quarter, the halls of Mary Gates were abuzz as first year MLIS students feverishly put the final touches on their group projects for their Information Behavior classes. The atmosphere was rife with excitement and apprehension, owing in part to the fact that the presentation was worth 40 percent of the class grade.

The assignment for the class was as follows: Working in groups of three or four, students studied the information behavior of various user groups and then presented their findings to the class in 45-minute presentations. Each group picked a key article for the rest of the class to read, conducted interviews with people in their user groups, performed an extensive review of the literature in the field and developed an experiential component that actively involved students in the presentation.

Nervousness and jitters aside, students were intrigued by the results of their research. Sarah Zabel, who studied the information behavior of artists, said that she was surprised by the lack of user studies about that group. This seemed odd in light of the fact that there are more full-time artists than lawyers in the United States, yet there are far more user studies of lawyers than there are of artists. Sarah noticed that artists tended to browse a wide variety of books-not necessarily about art-for inspiration.

Pete Adelman, who studied the information behavior of nurses, found just the opposite-there were an overwhelming number of user studies that focused on nurses. He pointed out that nurses' searching behavior was widely studied in order to avoid "negative patient outcomes" as a result of incorrect information.

Interviews also yielded interesting and sometimes surprising results. Pete's group interviewed a nurse who is also a student. When asked if she used databases such as Medline to find information, the interviewee answered that she only did so when she was working on a school assignment. While she was working, the nurse used whatever database came up first on the computer-even if it wasn't the best source of information-because she was in such a hurry. Pete thought that this was a relatively easy problem to solve-just preset all of the computers to automatically display a particular database.

Groups concocted unique experiential components-from handing out a simple questionnaire to pitting classmates against each other in a lively "Family Feud" style game show. This part of the presentation almost always involved some type of treat, such as candy or cupcakes, to raise blood sugar levels and encourage maximum class participation. (These treats were in no way considered a "bribe.")

One of the most impressive experiential components presented in the "A" section of 510 was a video game designed by the scientists group. The game, "Where on Campus is Carmen San Diego," featured a dastardly thief who went to different science labs around campus and stole substances with long scientific names. When students finished the game, they had to figure out what it was that Carmen was trying to make with the illicit ingredients (the answer was ice cream). The exercise illustrated the difficulty that scientists have in communicating with one another within the scientific community.

All in all, students were proud of their work and looked forward to giving their presentations-and to having them over with. Sarah Zabel's group was one of the last to present in front of the class. Before the presentation, we asked her how she thought it was going to turn out. She laughed and replied: "It's either going to be really fun, or it could get really out of hand-that could be fun too."

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