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Voices of VIVA

Claudine Ferrell

Associate Professor, History & American Studies, Mary Washington College

"Working with students in Mary Washington's introductory skills and methods course for history majors was my first "proof" that the resources of VIVA can make a major difference in what instructors can expect of students . . . and what students can actually accomplish. While the course is introductory, students quickly learn that they can use VIVA to do work which is well beyond introductory. It is always exciting to see them use VIVA resources - - my personal favorite is PCI (Periodicals Contents Index), which list articles from over 2700 journals from before the Revolutionary War to the 1990s - - and realize how challenging and rewarding good research can be. Most are discovering for the first time that good research is good detective work and that VIVA is like having an experienced partner at their sides.

Lately, I have found additional proof of the value of VIVA. Students in our Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program enter with backgrounds in only one or two fields, and often their academic work in those fields is fifteen or twenty years old. Entering a program which requires them to do research in ever-changing disciplines is a scary prospect for students whose research skills are rusty and date to the days of the card catalog. During our application interview, we discuss research and I now show them what VIVA has to offer. In most cases, they are amazed . . . and relieved. They realize that they can start research in any field thanks to Mary Washington's easy access to VIVA."

Esther Floyd

Assistant Professor of English at Richard Bland College of The College of William and Mary

Conducting scholarly research is a vital part of the undergraduate and graduate experience. However, many first-year college students do not approach research with enthusiasm. In the past, they may have spent hours pouring over books and magazines to find information relevant to their topic. Before the days of electronic databases, students often spent considerable time going through printed indexes, locating article titles that seemed vital to their research only to discover that the periodical in which the article appeared was not located in their library. Before the days of fax machines, students were often forced to spend precious time driving to other libraries to get the articles from the shelves. Fax machines saved much travel time. Still, however, students had to wait for someone at another library to pull the requested articles from the shelves and then send the articles back to them via fax machine. Then students had access to more information, the World Wide Web. While much of the information on the WWW is quite credible, much is not. Esther Floyd, Assistant Professor of English at Richard Bland College of The College of William and Mary, encourages her students to use VIVA extensively in their research. She says that students quickly learn the value of technology in research and use VIVA regularly because they have instant access to credible, full-text articles not available in the RBC Library.

At the beginning of each research project, Ms. Floyd takes her students to the RBC Library. Using the Library's on-line tutorial, the librarian outlines the research process and explains the use of LION, the College's on-line catalog, and VIVA, as well as print sources. Then students tour the Library to see where the various resources are located and how best to take advantage of the services that the Library offers.

With technology, students can conduct research outside the walls of the RBC Library. During the Fall 1999 semester, the networked English computer-assisted classroom was used for the first time. Twenty-two student workstations and one teacher workstation provide not only communication among students and teacher but also access to the Internet. In addition to using computers for word processing and for giving and receiving feedback on their writing, students in some sections of English 101 are also using the networked computers to access the Virtual Library of Virginia. The advantage of teaching research in a computer-assisted classroom, Ms. Floyd says, is that she is able to monitor students more closely as they learn and develop research skills and that she is able to solve more readily their problems locating sources on the World Wide Web and determining the credibility of those sources. VIVA, students learn, is often the best place to begin their research. In the computer-assisted classroom, Ms. Floyd finds that students who were once skeptical of technology begin to feel more confident as their experience with the technology increases.

Toward the end of the semester in Ms. Floyd's English 100 (Developmental English), students write an essay in which they define a term. As they choose topics and generate ideas for the essay, students are introduced to the concepts of research and honorable treatment of secondary sources. Using the periodical indexes on CD-ROMs, the World Wide Web, and VIVA, students research topics such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, dyslexia, migraine headaches, and censorship. Students who want to write about broad topics such as freedom find that doing subject searches in VIVA helps them to focus their topic as well as obtain reliable information.

In Ms. Floyd's English 101 (Writing and Research), students research topics relevant to their personal lives or professional goals. More recent topics have included music therapy, the environment (specifically pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and destruction of the Florida Keys' coral reefs), cloning, childhood immunizations, alcohol abuse among college students, and law enforcement. Students often begin their research by consulting Encyclopaedia Britannica Online to get an overview of their topic and then access FirstSearch and InfoTrac. While in FirstSearch, students access a variety of specialized databases. Students who are researching topics in education, for example, often consult ERIC. While in Infotrac, many students consult the Expanded Academic ASAP database. Students researching health-related topics have much success in the Health Reference Center-Academic database; students with computer-related topics, the Computer Database.

During the second half of the semester, students in Ms. Floyd's English 102 (Introduction to Literary Genres) write a critical analysis of a novel, play, or collection of poetry. The most recent writers studied include Kate Chopin, Ken Kesey, Alice Walker, Sylvia Plath, and Gustave Flaubert. Students in Ms. Floyd's English 102 are urged to begin their research by consulting LION for information on the author and Contemporary Literary Criticism and Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism for published critical essays. Students then continue their research by accessing VIVA. There they find information on the writer and the work in Contemporary Authors, Readers' Guide Abstract, Book Review Digest, Books in Print with Book Reviews (web) and New York Times (Index). Like her students in English 100 and English 101, Ms. Floyd's English 102 students also use Expanded Academic ASAP in InfoTrac to access full-text articles in periodicals not available in the College Library.

Ms. Floyd notes that although some students look at research as a heavy burden, many students become excited about independent learning when reliable sources are so readily available. They find VIVA easy to use and are eager to help fellow students learn the technology.

Marla J. VanHoose

Candidate for the M.F.A. in Creative Writing at George Mason University

"I'd bet that the majority of students here don't know about the profound impact the Virtual Library of Virginia has on our ability to conduct state-of-the-art research here at Mason. If I didn't work at Fenwick Library, I might not either!"

"In comparison to other peer institutions, George Mason subscribes to an extraordinary number of electronic databases ranging from specialized, subject-specific resources to full-text interdisciplinary databases. From what I understand, the sole reason we are able to access so many resources as students is because of the work that VIVA does on behalf of Virginia state institutions. With VIVA's collective buying power, GMU students have access to many expensive resources George Mason couldn't otherwise afford on its own."

"As for my academic interests and scholarship, the MLA, LLBA, Expanded Academic ASAP, and the full-text poetry databases from Chadwyck-Healey are the databases I rely on most in my work. When I was preparing for my comprehensive MFA exam, I was able to to assemble a study notebook of poems that I printed out in full-text from the VIVA poetry databases. Coupled with biographical information from VIVA's Contemporary Authors database and criticism cites from MLA, I was able to conduct a majority of my research from the comfort of my student apartment!"

Kyle F. Zelner

Ph.D. Candidate & Writing Consultant, College of William & Mary, Department of History

"I am currently finishing up my dissertation on 17th Century New England militiamen and I wanted to let you know that VIVA and W&M's easy access to the system has made a major impact on my ability to do research. I simply can not fathom doing research without the resources of VIVA, especially America: History & Life and Worldcat. I use America:History & Life to keep current on articles, book reviews, and dissertations in American History--I put in my topic keywords about once every three months to see what is new in my field. Worldcat is a indispensable tool for finding books and dissertations. I also enjoy the ease in which I can order things from W&M's great ILL department directly from Worldcat if Swem doesn't own the item.

In addition to finishing my dissertation, I am currently working as a consultant in the History Department's new History Writing Resources Center (http://www.wm.edu/hwrc/). We often tell students who come in for help researching history projects about the wonderful resources of VIVA. The first link on our Research web page is to Swem's Library gateway with its VIVA access.

I can not thank you and the college enough for having this crucial research tool so widely available for our use."

 

VIVA is funded by the Virginia General Assembly and the VIVA member institutions, and is sponsored by the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV).