Checking Out What's in the Water

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UW Tacoma librarian joins class studying microplastics in Thea Foss

On a mild, partly-sunny Tuesday in February, UW Tacoma librarian Katie Monks stepped onto a boat docked at Tacoma’s Center for Urban Waters.  She was welcomed by Julie Masura, a lecturer in UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and an environmental scientist who studies the concentrations of microplastics in Pacific Northwest water.  Julie was surrounded by a group of students, who were smiling in the sun and finding comfortable footing amid the equipment arranged on the deck of the modest watercraft.  After donning life vests and listening to the captain’s safety precautions, they all set out to sea…

Or rather, they set out to the Thea Foss Waterway.  The students were from one of the classes Masura taught this quarter, TCORE 112:  Ocean Full of Trash.  And they were on the boat to investigate the amount of plastic polluting the water in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay.  A few weeks earlier, Monks had visited the class—on land!—to talk about using the library to conduct research for the class.  In particular, students needed to find primary and secondary sources about microplastics, in preparation for the study they conducted in Thea Foss and a field report they would later write.  Masura, who has invited librarians to teach research skills in her upper-level science classes before, thought Monks might like to see the class project in action.  And indeed, it was a unique opportunity for library staff to observe students incorporate, in a hands-on environment, what they had learned in class. 

Embedding librarians in science classes seems to be a fruitful partnership.  Monks comments:  “Our science faculty are amazingly welcoming and engaged in the learning process of their students. Since joining UW Tacoma, I have been impressed by the collaboration between librarians and science faculty to develop, assess, and teach courses that offer students the ability to develop crucial twenty-first century life skills such as information literacy, which includes being able to: identify when and why information is needed, conduct effective searches using applicable tools, evaluate and use critical thinking to select information to address the research need, and ethically use and communicate information.”

The students seem to appreciate it, too.  Some thought it was just cool to have librarians join them on the boat and help highlight the problem of water pollution.  TCORE 112 student Autumn Eggleston also remarked, “Having a librarian visit our classroom helped me to understand how to look up primary and secondary peer-reviewed articles.  It has helped me search for my topic a lot quicker and with less stress than if I just plugged a question into Google.  Plus, now I know what the differences between scholarly and non-scholarly sources are, and what types of experiments are done in this field.”  Others students noted that they have applied the research skills that Monks taught them in their Geography and Writing classes as well.

Masura notes:  “I have had librarians come into class for many years now.  The greatest benefit is the relief students feel after being taught how accessible information is to them.  I wouldn’t have the success in writing projects without their support!”  And UW Tacoma librarians are always happy to oblige—whether it’s visiting a class on campus or on a boat.

Written by: 
J. Angela Wiehagen / March 11, 2016
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