For all of the reasons you give, I prohibit my introductory students from using AUTOCAT or similar lists. In addition, the purpose of homework assignments is for students to practice applying the principles that we learned in class. If all they do is ask librarians (on discussion lists or over the phone or at the library) for the answers -- in the form of "explanations" -- then they are not learning what they need to learn. I am quite confident that working librarians understand the material and get quite enough practical experience on a daily basis. What I need to know is whether my students understand the material. And if the students do submit the answers as their own work, they are guilty of plagiarism as it is defined at LSU. 
 Although I agree with you that we need to make every effort to explain the material in ways that can be understood, at the same time, it is not necessarily the instructor's fault if students do not understand. Most of the students in the introductory course have little interest in becoming catalogers, but the state of Louisiana requires that school librarians take cataloging for certification and our program requires that students take one course on the organization of information. They must apply themselves to the material and make a sincere and concerted effort to understand it. Not all of them will make the effort, because they lack motivation; of those who do apply themselves, not all of them will do well because they may lack the ability to think in the abstract terms required to understand cataloging. However, continually asking others for assistance rather than wrestling with the concepts and principles themselves will only serve to limit their understanding. I am quite confident that my students can ask questions; what I need to know is whether they understand the material and at what level. 
Finally, I'm sure that I'm not the only one giving online tests, and I'd hate to think that my students were just submitting their essay questions to a discussion list for answers. 
On the other hand, I may require my advanced students to subscribe to a list in order to get a sense of what is going on out there in the real world of cataloging and begin making the necessary connections with working professionals. 
Suzanne M. Stauffer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Library and Information Science
Louisiana State University
275 Coates Hall
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Fax: (225)578-4581
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From: Discussion List for issues related to cataloging & metadata education & training on behalf of Janet Hill
Sent: Wed 11/28/2007 2:28 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [eduCAT] Student use of discussion lists

Dear cataloging teachers,

I'm interested in hearing from you about your use and perception of student
participation on professional discussion lists.

From time to time students post to discussion lists, usually asking for
help.  In my experience, listmembers tend to be helpful and civil in their
answers, often going out of their way to provide information or opinion.  I
suspect that for the most part, listmembers on professional discussion lists
welcome student participation.  From time to time, however, a message
appears that may give us pause.  For example, a message was posted to
AUTOCAT recently, saying "I am a student and I am having problems
understanding what MARC records are. Could you please explain them to me?"
(a direct quote of the entire content of the message ... minus the

I responded as follows:
"My apologies if this response sounds a little snippy.  It's not intended to
be.  First, I have to assume that you are a student in an LIS program.
Secondly, since you are on AUTOCAT, I am assuming that you are in a class on
cataloging, or on the organization of information. 

If those two things are true, then the first person to ask is your
professor, because if your professor has not succeeded in making it clear
what a MARC record is, s/he needs to know.  Chances are good that you are
not the only person in the class who is confused.  

Sometimes people who are well acquainted with some arcane field of knowledge
get so comfortable with it that they forget how mysterious it all was to
them once, and that THEY had to have it explained to them in clear language
and little bits.  And so they forget to explain it to others, or they
explain it in a way that is not at all clear. 

I understand that it is difficult to speak up in a class to say that
something isn't clear (and it's difficult even to make an appointment to
speak to a professor privately), and that this is true whether the class is
virtual or physical.  But if you don't speak up, you encourage a pattern of
insufficient explanation begin given and accepted, and you don't give the
professor any indication that s/he needs to alter her/his approach.  And the
upshot is that you will not get what you need from the class."

Others tried their best actually to answer the question.  Within the space
of a few days AUTOCAT received a few other questions from students, asking
about things that seemed terribly open-ended or basic.   And I can recall
other instances in which students have posted questions that were incredibly
general, and thus not really susceptible to being answered.   Normally, I
try to be helpful, and try to answer questions posed, if I can, but this one
message really concerned me.  Was the student not getting adequate
instruction?  Was the student not communicating with the professor about
things that confused her/him?  Was this just an example of naivte (thinking
that it was in fact a reasonable and intelligent question)?  Was the student
simply fulfilling a class assignment to "ask something?"  Was the student
trying to use AUTOCAT members as a substitute for the education s/he was
PAYING for?  Did it occur to the student that the answer s/he might get
might not actually be accurate/correct/complete/unbiased?

So here's what I'm interested in hearing about:

How do you use AUTOCAT or similar discussion lists in your classes?  Do you
suggest or require students to subscribe to some such list?  Do you send
them there with a particular assignment (such as, ask a question; respond to
a thread, etc.)?  What do you hope/expect students to get out of their
participation? Do you give them any introductory information about
formulating messages or participating?  What do you hope that regular
listmembers will do (or not do) in answering student questions? Do you
monitor the lists that students join, so as to "keep tabs" on their


Janet Swan Hill, Professor
Associate Director for Technical Services
University of Colorado Libraries, CB184
Boulder, CO 80309
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Tradition is the handing-on of Fire, and not the worship of Ashes.
- Gustav Mahler