From Dean Hendrix, Coordinator of Education Services, University at Buffalo Health Sciences Library

Three years ago, the University at Buffalo Health Sciences Library (UBHSL) and the New Visions Honors Level Connection Program from Erie I BOCES began a collaborative program to teach practical information literacy skills to high schools seniors in the area.

Focused on health sciences careers, these students spent one day a week at a local hospital (Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital or the Buffalo VA Hospital) during the school year. At the beginning of the year, their teachers assigned the classes controversial questions in field of health sciences to research, and ultimately debated in a formal setting.

Students are expected to research both sides of an issue.

Past questions include:

* Should the United States government legalize medical marijuana?

* Should the United States government pay for universal health care?

* Should local, state or federal legislation ban unhealthy behaviors (riding a motorcycle without a helmet, trans fats in foods, smoking in public areas, etc.)?

* Should US citizens be allowed to fill prescriptions in pharmacies residing in foreign countries?

* Should the US government allow human cloning research?

In October, the classes came to UBHSL for hands-on training in some basic information literacy skills including the nature of different types of resources, the information cycle, database searching, evaluative methods and synthesizing information into a useful product.

The evaluative piece of the curricula was stressed heavily. Discussions were centered around the assessment of books, journals, magazines and websites as well as more in-depth delineations regarding study types (randomized controlled trials, review articles, editorials, case studies, etc.).

Due to the age of the students (read: attention span), interactive activities and group work were incorporated into the library instruction. Students were encouraged to come to the UBHSL, or patronize their high school libraries to refine their positions on the issues.

In November, students wrote a position paper with references culled from their previous research. The quality of their sources was assessed. The capstone to this collaboration was a formal debate held in the hospital in front of family, friends and hospital staff. Broken into teams of four, the students argued their assigned positions in a Lincoln-Douglas debate format. I served as one of three debate judges. It was extremely gratifying to see these students eloquently speak on these contentious topics. One student made a point to discuss the higher level evidence presented in a review article in order to add weight to his argument. It was a health sciences librarian’s dream to be sure.