September is always an exciting time. The changing of seasons, the build up to the start of term and then the influx of new plus familiar faces at Middlesex Dubai. Working as the Librarian for the past 6 years, I have seen the gamut of student emotions. From apprehension and anxiety at navigating a new campus, to joy and happiness while performing dance routines as part of Youth Fest, to pride with a hint of sadness when the credits roll at graduation.  

September is also a period when us ‘old timers’ must be extra empathic and kind as we remember what it was like when Middlesex was new to us. On top of this, we are all made up of our previous experiences, which are varied and different. We celebrate and embrace diversity by being mindful that something we exclusively view as a positive might not have the same connotations to others. For example, I LOVE libraries – not surprising given the job title! I find them safe, inviting luminous spaces full of potential and knowledge, just waiting for curious minds. However, my research and experience of hesitant students reveals that not everyone has instant ‘feels’ for our library.  

‘Library anxiety’ is common, especially amongst new students, and impairs ability in academic information-seeking as the library can appear a daunting place. The five barriers of Library anxiety are: fear of library staff, affective sense of incompetence, feeling uncomfortable in the library, lack of knowledge, and discomfort using library equipment (Gross and Latham, 2007). Although, I’d say I’m generally 80% sunshine, 10% meh, and 10% grump, during the first term I try to be 100% approachable. I realise the interactions I have with students can impact their use the library, an important resource, and whether they feel confident asking for our help.   

For us librarians, the first two months of the academic calendar is dedicated to the support of first year students, helping them to develop the skills, confidence and sense of identity required to become effective learners at university. First year undergraduate students are in a challenging period of information transition- building on previous research experiences from school and repurposing skills, in a process of evaluating their high school research kit and retooling it. In a survey from 14 American higher education institutions, over half of the student comments mentioned the influence of the library in keeping them on course with their studies (Head, 2013).  

Although new students will have variability in their backgrounds and experiences there can be similarities between first year students. These include: experiencing an information tsunami or feelings of information overload, not feeling prepared for the amount of work or fully realising what research entails, and being unified by their inexperience, newness, and lack of awareness about information systems and resources available to them. Major findings from Head’s Passage studies (2013) of six US colleges and universities first-term freshmen include: students finding college-level research assignments both ‘exciting’ and ‘overwhelming’, students realising that research competencies from high school were insufficient for university work, and some students, although conscious of insufficient research skills, sticking to persistent old habits of reliance on Google and Wikipedia.   

To assist new student with the transition to we have created an interactive resource called Triple ‘A’ https://www.mdx.ac.ae/library/triple-a. The Academic Aptitude Assessment is an online resource that has been designed to assess and compare levels of confidence versus actual academic skills within six areas: 

  • Discovering Information 
  • Understanding Information 
  • Critical Thinking 
  • Referencing 
  • Academic Writing  
  • Presentation Skills  

The resource is aimed at new students transiting into university life as self-awareness and metacognition is an important part of learning. New students often can misjudge academic skills within their new university environment and students unaware of skill deficits will not seek out help. The Triple A consists of three parts designed to improve student reflection and metacognition:  

  • Part 1 – The Assessment. Total of 60 questions. Five self-assessment questions in the six areas then five questions assessing current knowledge.  
  • Part 2 – The Results. Two scores:‘self-assessed’ and ‘actual’- help to identify academic skills areas that need improvement. The discrepancies between self-assessed and actual scores indicate that student expectations and reality of skills could cause difficulty adapting/ transitioning.  
  • Part 3 – Learning materials to improve skills. The materials are ‘open-ended’- they can be reviewed anytime and completed at the learner’s own pace and requirements. 

Please remember that Learning materials in Part 3 of the Triple are a starting point in the support that are available with academic skills. The Library (library@mdx.ac.ae) and Centre for Academic Success (cas@mdx.ac.ae) have dedicated staff and facilities where students can seek in person or online advice and academic support. The Triple A along with other support resources can be access via our website (https://www.mdx.ac.ae/library). If you need any further information about the Triple A or other services that the Library can offer please get in touch with me, your (mostly) friendly librarian! 

 

Laura Barber is a Librarian at Middlesex University Dubai and the developer of the Triple A: Academic Aptitude Assessment learning resource.