PGM
International Honor Society in Social Sciences
The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service.

VIEW FROM THE PODIUM

Snatching Excellence from the Jaws of Mediocrity

As a professor in the social sciences, I am convinced that I have a responsibility to ensure that my students amass a mental repository of knowledge about my discipline (political science) and that they develop the capability to conduct research and report their discoveries coherently.  My colleagues at North Georgia College & State University and I have discovered that we are far from having perfected the process of producing those results.  Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable decline in the ability of our political-science seniors to write a research paper.  An instructor's natural instinct is to attribute such a decline to the irresponsibility of the students, but, if I were to finally subscribe to such an opinion, I would have to be more foolish than any of my students actually are.

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that we are blameless and that our students are negligent, my colleagues and I opted to scrutinize everything about our students' failures and our instructional processes.  As my colleagues and I talked over our concerns, one clue that I had filed away in my memory was my discovery that some of my students did not know how to obtain library books in the course of conducting research.  Realizing that I had not explored the problem adequately, I discussed the matter with my students during our classes.  Then I knew for sure that this unfamiliarity with the value and accessibility of library books was widespread.

Of course, our students know how to use the Google search engine to find Web pages of all kinds.  They also seem to be adept at using online periodical guides, such as EBSCO and JSTOR, to find articles in online journals.  In fact, other faculty members and our librarians eagerly call those periodical guides to their attention.  But few students have experience using GIL, the University System of Georgia's online catalogue of the holdings of the libraries of the system's 35 public colleges and universities, nor, apparently, have they been encouraged to use it.  It took me so long to absorb the information that most of my students don't know how to use GIL because I could not imagine a world in which students are unacquainted with what we used to call the "card catalogue" of a library.  At Jefferson Junior High School in Meriden, Conn., in 1965, librarian Esther E. Fowler taught my seventh-grade classmates and me to use the library's card catalogue.  When this dedicated educator died last year at the age of 100, she was probably at peace with her confidence that her former students, like me, could still find library books if we were to need them.

Early in this calendar year, I began to teach my students to use GIL.  I have succeeded in getting many of them to come to my office, for an hour in each case, so that together we could use GIL to obtain library books for their research papers.  I also recruited colleagues to work with me on an effort to overhaul how we instruct our students to do research.  Dr. Dlynn F. Armstrong‑Williams, head of our Department of Political Science and International Affairs, expressed her full support for this effort and appointed a committee consisting of Maria J. Albo, Dr. Carl D. Cavalli, Dr. Beth M. Rauhaus, and me.  I am proud to observe that all of these educators are members of Pi Gamma Mu.  We have begun to create resources (including essays that appear in Microsoft Word documents and on Web pages and outlines that appear on Microsoft PowerPoint presentations) to intensify our instruction of students about how to conduct research and construct research papers.  You can see a Web page that we have already uploaded at http://www.northgeorgia.edu/psia/Default_1col.aspx?id=4294982254 .  The quality of my students' research products has responded favorably to this initiative.  While I was frantic earlier this year, I am now entirely optimistic that this project will allow us to recover the level of quality of the education that we are delivering to our students and that we always assumed that we were attaining.

Lest anyone argue that he "knows" that students are hopelessly addicted to online content and are repelled by the printed word, I will report to you that most of my students who work with me in using Georgia's GIL system to obtain books for their research projects are dazzled when they discover the opportunity to find such books, to request them through the online ordering process, and to receive them just a few days later at our own library.  "I didn't know that you could do this!" many of them exult.  A whole lot of higher-education leaders around here‑‑and perhaps across the country‑‑ought to do a lot of soul-searching about the disaster of students not knowing how to obtain library books.  This state of affairs may very well be the result of all of the teaching conferences and workshops in which teachers are exhorted to accept their students' infatuation with Internet-based resources and to abandon the unpretentious book as a productive delivery system for knowledge and a catalyst for igniting students' imaginations.  I am a member of the original TV generation, but my teachers did not indulge us by showing us television programs all day or assigning the watching of television after school.  The pernicious policy of pandering to our students' natural desire to have fun all the time is an insult to their intelligence, a grave disservice to them and to American society, and an indefensible abdication of our professional responsibility.

Article I, Section 3, of Pi Gamma Mu's international constitution describes our mission as follows:  "The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service."  I am gratified, and not at all surprised, that fellow members of my Pi Gamma Mu chapter have rallied around this effort to give our university's students the fighting chance that they deserve to produce excellent research products.  I am curious, naturally, about the experience of professors at other colleges and universities.  What have you observed?  If you have also encountered declines in students' ability to conduct research, how have you addressed the problem?  It is quite possible that Pi Gamma Mu may have a role in evaluating our students' ability to conduct research and in providing information and encouragement to faculty members to help them protect their students from the incapability from which I am desperately trying to protect my students.

Barry D. Friedman
International President

 

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Front Page

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SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATION DEADLINE - JANUARY 30, 2011

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SPECIAL REQUEST: International Social Science Review

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CALL FOR PAPERS

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PI GAMMA MU SOLICITS YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT

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IDEALS OF PI GAMMA MU

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