Treasure or Trash? Helping students distinguish online gold from online guff


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These are the slides for a short talk to be given at the Higher Education Academy STEM conference in Birmingham (UK) on 18th April 2013. They describe a blended-learning activity in which students evaluate a series of online sources prior to a group tutorial. Reflections on the merit of the task are given, including data derived during three years of usage.

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Treasure or Trash? Helping students distinguish online gold from online guff

  1. 1. HEA STEM, Birmingham April 2013 Treasure or Trash?Helping students distinguish online gold from online guff Dr Chris Willmott Dept of Biochemistry, University of Leicester University of Leicester
  2. 2. Background• There was a time, not SO long ago…• The internet provides an apparently bottomless pool of information• There are concerns that students may not possess the skills to appraise the merits of online sources 1,2 • Information literacy • Digital literacy
  3. 3. Activity• Students are asked to evaluate eight online sources• One week before group tutorial, sent instructions,plus: • File listing top eight hits on a “Google search” • Link to proforma for recording evaluation of the sources• Student complete activity in their own time prior to the tutorial • Ensures they can work at own pace • Enables me to collate cohort response
  4. 4. Activity
  5. 5. Activity• For each source students are asked to consider: • The “academic quality” of the source • Veracity? • Credibility? • Would the person marking your work think it was an appropriately academic source document for the purpose? • 1 (low) to 10 (high)
  6. 6. Activity• For each source students are asked to consider: • The “suitability” and “relevance” for two assignments • A first year essay on the role of mitochondria in energy production • A final year dissertation on the role of mitochondria in ageing • For each category 5-point Likert scale offered• Open-text box to give short explanation of their reasoning
  7. 7. Source 1• What is it? Chapter from Molecular Biology of the Cell• Why is this example included? Alerts students to fact some major texts are online Raises point that textbooks = good, but not pinnacle• Mean student rating*: 7.9 (SD 1.4)• Tutor rating: 8 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  8. 8. Source 2• What is it? Wikipedia• Why is this example included? First port of call for casual research Students need to be aware of differences of opinion Raising notion of Wikipedia as a portal not endpoint• Mean student rating*: 5.7 (2.4)• Tutor rating: 4 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  9. 9. Source 3• What is it? Essay from “papermill”• Why is this example included? Important to raise educational concerns (and quality concerns) regarding sub-contraction services [Worry – alerting students to their existence?]• Mean student rating*: 5.4 (2.3)• Tutor rating: 2 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  10. 10. Source 4• What is it? A short review article in an important journal• Why is this example included? An example of a top peer-reviewed journal An opportunity to discuss peer review and validation?•Mean student rating*: 8.5 (1.8)• Tutor rating: 9 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  11. 11. Source 5• What is it? A research article from a top journal• Why is this example included? Raise differences between “primary literature” and review articles Good point to discuss citation scores?• Mean student rating*: 8.6 (1.8)• Tutor rating: 9
  12. 12. Source 6• What is it? Educational website with peer-reviewed articles• Why is this example included? A “good” website – run by American Institute of Biological Sciences• Mean student rating*: 6.7 (2.1)• Tutor rating: 6 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  13. 13. Source 7• What is it? CBS News website• Why is this example included? Title is alluringly close to one of the set assignments Written by staff writer “Jamie Holguin”, no evidence of scientific training• Mean student rating*: 4.4 (2.0)• Tutor rating: 3 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  14. 14. Source 8• What is it? TED talk• Why is this example included? Raising notion that not all sources are written (though a transcript is available)• Mean student rating*: 5.4 (2.5)• Tutor rating: 5 * 2010-12 (n=299)
  15. 15. Comments at close of tutorial• Reminder that although internet useful tool for accessing fantastic resources, other resources• Library offers access to books and expertise of staff
  16. 16. Summary of outcomes
  17. 17. Evaluation• 2010-2012, 169 students completed anonymous evaluation of activity• 91% of students gave positive feedback: This was a useful exercise Agreed (56%) Strongly Agreed (35%)
  18. 18. Evaluation• “In some instances my opinion and the actual answers differed by quite a lot. This activity gave me greater insight into how sources are viewed in terms of authority at a university level”• “It really opened my eyes to some aspects I had never given a lot of thought to”• “It made me aware of how important the quality of sources is and how to judge this”• “It was really useful, as I was a bit apprehensive about using the wrong sources in essays.”• “I didn’t learn much new, but the practice and the feedback session helped me to understand better.”
  19. 19. My reflections• A valuable, if imperfect, exercise• Terminology: explaining key issues hard to get across succinctly a priori• Works best as blended (online then F2F) activity• Could be quicker without requesting explanation “After about five sources the task got tedious, however it was still useful”
  20. 20. Adapting for your course?• Researching possible sources and shortlisting to about eight takes time• Check that sources are available off campus (and expect some tinkering to be required as URLs change)• Search pages prepared as PowerPoint slides and uploaded to using Adobe Presenter• Data collection form prepared in Plone, but Google Forms, etc could be used
  21. 21. References1. Beetham H. et al. (2009) Thriving in the 21st Century: Learning literacies for the digital age (JISC)2. Pan B. et al. (2010) Assessing the dynamics of search results in Google. Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 11:405-416
  22. 22. Acknowledgements• Stuart Johnson• Alan Cann & Jo Badge• Ethical approval cjrw2-7991b
  23. 23. Any Questions?E-mail: cjrwSlideshare: cjrw2Delicious: chriswillmottBlogs: University of Leicester