Article Review: Computer Assisted Instruction versus Bibliographic Instruction

This article was originally reviewed for my statistics and research methods course.

Van Scoyoc, A. M. (2003). Reducing library anxiety in first-year students: The impact of computer-assisted instruction and bibliographic instruction. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 42(4), 329-341

The purpose of this study was very straightforward. The author notes that “library anxiety” is a common issue among undergraduate students and that it can affect their ability to be sucessful in their coursework. Traditionally, this anxiety has been mitigated by bibliographic instruction sessions led by librarians, which give students a familiarity with library resources while also introducing them to librarians as people who can assist them when necessary. The development of digital technologies has allowed the creation of computer- assisted instruction (CAI) which may or may not produce the same results as attending a librarian-led session. Van Scoyoc’s study compares a control group of students with those who attend a bibliographic instruction session, as well as those who go through a CAI tutorial to determine which type of instruction is most effective at reducing library anxiety.

Organizationally, this article is very strong, and mostly well-written. While there are some areas that could use more varied sentence structure (The author uses the exact same sentence twice on p. 335: “Pairwise comparisons between group means…”), concepts are clearly explained, sections are labeled, and the author includes useful tables that summarize their figures. The research clearly fills a gap in the field, and the author is very careful to explain their methodology. Van Scoyoc is also very clear about the experimental nature and limitations of the study, even though the results seem relatively straightforward.

However, there are some flaws in the article that make it less readable. While Van Scoyoc’s detail orientation in regards to their method and calculations is admirable, it also makes the article off-putting for those who may not be as inclined towards statistical analysis. I’m in the middle of a statistics class and found this article to be difficult to get through – I can imagine that someone farther away from their education (or someone for whom math is a struggle no matter where they are in education) would find the Results section difficult to parse. It would have been acceptable to include fewer descriptions of calculations and more explanation of the results, because it seems rather gratuitous at this level.

The quasi-experimental methodology of this study seemed appropriate for research of this type: examinations of a specific kind that have not been done before. In addition, the author’s care to explain their methodology would be helpful in replicating this experiment. I would be interested to see this study replicated with less time between the pre- and post-tests, since this study had such a short turnaround time. First-year students learn a lot in a relatively short amount of time, and it could be that familiarity with campus and college culture would mitigate students’ library anxiety – perhaps an area of further research would be to replicate this study at the beginning of the year and at the end of it. Another question that I didn’t see addressed (but which was probably outside the scope of this study) was the underlying cause of students’ anxiety – specifically, if students are anxious about their abilities to find things, it might make sense to re-examine the transparency and discoverability of resources. Anecdotal as it is, I can say that even as a library science student I’ve had difficulty finding things in obfuscating systems, and I have an advantage in familiarity with LIS principles.

This article’s audience is probably limited mainly to other instructional librarians or their administrators, particularly those interested in the pros and cons of in-person instruction sessions versus CAI.