According to the ALA-American Library Association (2011), an information literate individual possesses the skills required to “recognize when information is needed and the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the information.” Research skills or information literacy in the 21st century requires more than just finding and using information, students need to find accurate and appropriate information especially with the plethora of accurate and inaccurate sources available on the Web. Students need to develop the research abilities of finding, verifying, and sorting through information aseasily as breathing. Educators need to help students develop skills for researching topics on the internet, using keywords and tagging, identifying the best sources of information, critically evaluating and verifying information, and sharing information with others in order to improve valuable research/information literacy skills to develop life-long learners.
In this world of information it is crucial that students learn how to conduct effective Internet searches. Educators need to teach students strategies for conducting research. Information seeking strategies will help students know how to identify possible sources and select the best sources. Educators need to help student understand search engines and how to use Boolean logic, keywords, and phrases for searches. Not all web pages can be found through search engines so students need to be versed in finding information in online libraries, catalogs, and databases. Learning how to conduct proper research will save time and effort, as well as develop a life-long skill.
First, when students learn effective researching skillsthey discover how to find the best resources for their research. Second, when students learn how to conduct research more efficiently they will have more confidence and learn to save time, as well as reduce stress and frustration of finding wrong information or not finding the needed information. Third, when students develop information literacy skillsthey transfer these skills to higher education and to their professional or personal information needs (USD, 2013). Developing effective searching skills will create life-long learners who contribute through leadership and service. “A life-long learner is an information-literate person”(USD, 2013).
In the age where information is just a key stroke away, students must understand how to use and filter information. An important step in developing information literacy skills is learning how to search and research topics on the internet. Information has always assisted people in making decisions and drawing conclusions. Not only do information literacy skills allow students to discovery, evaluate, and use needed information but more importantly, allow students to learn to filter out the information they do not need (Spitzer, Eisenberg, & Lowe, 1998).As shown in the image, an information literate student will: analyzes questions, applies strategies, evaluate, and understand scholarly processes (Information Literacy, 2013).
Researching skills are crucial to students because they are surrounded by so much information in many different formats. In this vast “ocean of information,” students need to recognize what is reliable, authoritative, and current, as well as what is biased, confusing, and incorrect (Information Literacy, 2011). Information comes in many different types of sources and knowing which source is the most probable to contain the information students are looking for is important to the research process.
Feijoo (2005) developed five steps to help students search for and evaluate information on the Internet. Step one is to understand and acknowledge the need. Before leaping into Google and starting the research students should take time to determine what information is needed. Identify what is and is not needed, how much information is needed, and the quality needed. Step two is to create a worksheet of the questions to be searched. Step three is to develop a search strategy; in other words, how will the questions be asked. Students should use search tools like Boolean logic or learn to use truncated words like “and” and “or” to query their search results, as well as key words and phrases. Step four is to do the searches in at least two different search engines. Last but not least is to evaluate the search results to determine if they are credible (Feijoo, 2005). Searching on the internet will returned results that are accurate, inaccurate, and indifferent. Even though an adept search may take more time, learning skillful searching techniques will save students from wasting time and energy and will help students avoid using inaccurate or untrustworthy information.
One strategy to help students develop research skills is to teach them how to analyze information found on the web. Students need to understand that information is constantly changing and is there one day and gone the next day. Educators need to instruct students how to determine if information is beneficial, trustworthy, and appropriate for their research. One method to achieve this goal is to educate students to “test” the site and information by using a set of standards: who is the author or institution, who is the audience, what is the purpose, is the information current, and is it accurate and unbiased.
The definition of a primary source is “a first-hand, direct source of information or research, such as the words of a person who is the subject, official government records, or the memoirs of others; document examined that had not been amended by a third party…” (Primary Sources, n.d.). “There is no better way to study the past or present than through consultation of original, primary source documents produced within the time period in question. Scholars, Librarians, and Historians alike all agree that the study of primary sources lie at the core of any serious historical research” (Primary Sources, n.d.).
“Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format” (Primary Sources, 2008). Primary sources are available in libraries, universities, and governments sources. Libraries and archives across the world contain large collections of historical documents that are often available online and can be used for research. Primary sources include: Letters Literary manuscripts Diaries Photos Newspapers Books and monographs Personal and official correspondence Minutes of meetings Records – political, government, medical Personal memoirs (Primary Sources, 2008)Primary sources can be difficult to find; therefore, students should not hesitate to seek assistance from teachers or librarians, as well as online help on websites.
When conducting Internet searches students need to know if they require an extensive overview of a subject or a more specific and narrowed topic. Online encyclopedias and books may help with a broad summary of a topic whereas journal articles may be more specific. Often students will need a mixture of media to locate the needed information (Information Sources, n.d.). Students need to know if they need an expert on the topic or general information on the topic. Scholarly journals are great sources for in-depth research. Articles or general interest publications like Smithsonian or National Geographic are good sources for general information and can help explain information in scholarly journal articles (Information Sources, n.d.).
Books are normally an authoritative source that offers comprehensive reporting on a topic. They usually include a bibliography and citation data. Books are not usually as up-to-date as journal articles. Scholarly journal articles are published regularly and discuss the latest issues, topics, and research, as well as reviews of literature. Magazines and newspapers are published on a regular basis and contain articles on current news, events, topics, and more. They are a good source for the most recent and current information (Research skills for education, 2013).
It is important to know if the topic is current or old when conducting research. Searching for current topic and older topics will lead students to different sources for information. When searching for information that is less than a month or two old the researcher should consider websites, newspapers, and magazines. Almanacs, yearbooks, and encyclopedias are a good source for information that is just a year or so old. Information older than a year can be found in books, scholarly journals, and annual reviews (Information Sources, n.d.).
Anyone can create and publish a web page; therefore, the ability to recognize good information from bad is crucial for students when researching on the internet. Students need to learn how to critically evaluate information and make judgments about whether it is credible. Instead of just using the information because it is published on the web, students need to think critically to determine if it is reliable. According to Beck (2009), there are five main considerations when critically evaluating internet information:Authority – is the page signed, is the author an expert, what are the authors qualificationsCoverage – is the information relevant, how in-depth is the information, is it usefulObjectivity – does the information reveal bias, is it fact or opinionAccuracy – is it reliable, is the information error free, is it up-to-dateUp-to-date – is the web page dated, is it updated, are the links currentAlong with the five main considerations, students should also evaluate the website by determining its purpose – why was the site created and who owns it; verifiability – do other sources confirm the facts or credentials; and relevance – does the content relate to the issue (Owen, 2012).
It is inevitable that students will run across unreliable websites but with guidance from educators and developing research/informational literacy skills they will be able to determine whether or not the information they are searching for is reliable. Critical thinking and evaluation of the source will help students recognize facts from opinions. "We've inherited this notion that if it pops up on a screen and looks good, we tend to think of it as fairly credible," said Paul Gilster, author of Digital Literacy (Kelly, 1999). Developing the ability to critically evaluate information will help students sort through the ocean of information that can be found on the Internet.
According to Harvard educators, students should keep track of internet sources locations and continually track changing sources. They recommend that students at least “keep track of each website they visit by logging the web addresses (URLs) in a separate document from the one they are writing. Bookmark thepages they use, put each one intoa file with an accurate name, and thenexport those files into a folder that is updated regularly. This is a soundresearch habit in general, but is especially important if using severalcomputers or sharing computers. These basic steps will help to know how toreturn to any websites that were used” (Berg, et.al., 2007).Another method for keeping track and organizing resources is to use an online resource sharing application. According to Scrible (2013), an online resource sharing application, “even though the world uses the Internet to research nearly everything for work, school and home (job postings, press releases, Wikipedia articles, medical info, etc.), most folks still use old-school ways of annotating, organizing and sharing online info (printing to mark by hand, copying/pasting into Word, etc.).” Online resource sharing applications allow users to save Internet sources, make annotations, create libraries, share libraries, and much more. Online resource libraries are easy and convenient to use. Other online resource sharing sources are Huddle, Surfmark, and Merlot.
Social bookmarking is more popular now than ever. Social bookmarking may not be the typical academic method of tracking sources but more and more Millennials use social bookmarking to share and track their sources.Twitter is the most commonly used social bookmarking tool . Pinterest, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Delicious are the some other commonly used social bookmarking tools – listed in order of most commonly used (Social Bookmarking, 2013). Social bookmarking is useful when gathering resources that will be shared with others. Anyone can participate in social bookmarking.Social Bookmarking is one of the best methodsto get “quality one-way backlinks and top rankings” in search engines (SubmitWagon, 2012).
RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) isa feature of a website that allows users to read the latest news or articles without having to visit multiple websites each time they want the news. Many news and journals have the RSS icon shown that signifies they are an RSS feed. RSS solves a problem for users who regularly use the web. It allows users to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites they are interested in – all in one place. Why should students use RSS feeds? Because it will save them a lot of time. Instead of checking twenty or thirty different news websites for the latest news, students can create their own RSS feed through online software and get current news in one web based news reader. Some online RSS feed readers and generators are NetVibes, ChimpFeedr, Newsblur, and Feedly. Once users have a Feed Reader, they simply find sites of syndicate content and add their RSS feed to the list of feeds in their Feed Reader.
Teaching students how to learn to use the Internet for researching can be one of the most useful skills a student can develop. The Internet can seem a vast ocean of information where it is hard to find anything useful and reliable. However, when properly utilized, the Internet can be used for a plethora of research purposes. When students develop research/information literacy skills they can conduct efficient and effective internet searches to retrieve the needed information. The chart demonstrates how to do research in a step by step explanation for research success.
According to Smith (2007), academic scholars have determined that playing games and activities increase literacy, problem solving, and researching skills. Searching is a mental game. Activities and playing games are similar to researching. They both require ability and repetition, commitment and practice, and are usually a step by step process. Both can be entertaining and gratifying. If educators can create a high interest level in the activity students will participate and be interested in learning. Educators should make researching a game and use activities to increase research/informational literacy skills.
Nearly everyone who uses the Internet has had the annoying experience of doing a web search and being inundated with hundreds of results. Learning to research properly by choosing the appropriate search engine, controlling search terms, and using the best sources can make Internet searching faster, efficient, and more effective. “To prosper in the Digital Age, people must become masters of information” (Stern, 2003). Students must become “masters of information” to be successful in the classroom and in life. Developing effective research/information literacy skills will be valuable lifetime skills that students will use in higher education, on the job, to make consumer decisions, and to educate themselves on important matters.Educators should incorporate research/information literacy in all areas of curricula. Educators inspire students to discover the unknown, offer guidance for achieving information needs, and monitor student success to create life-long learners.
Just to make you laugh…a little internet humor. All cartoons are from cartoonist Randy Glasbergen.
Being Information Literate
in a Digital World
Learn How to Search
• Help identify sources
• Select the best sources
• Understand search engines
– Boolean Logic
• Utilize other sources
– Online libraries
Why learn effective
• Be able to find best
• Save time
• Information Literacy
• Information Literacy
skills help students
– Develop Scholarly Processes
Research skills help
– What is reliable
Steps for Searching,
Verifying, & Evaluating
2.Create a Worksheet
• Who is the author?
• Who is the audience?
• What is the purpose?
• Information current?
• Is it Accurate?
• Is it Unbiased?
“primary source, adj. a first-
hand, direct source of
information or research, such
as the words of a person who
is the subject, official
government records, or the
memoirs of others; document
examined that had not been
amended by a third party…”
• Literary manuscripts
• Books and monographs
• Personal and official
• Minutes of meetings
• Personal memoirs
Identifying the Best
Sources of Information
• Online encyclopedias
• Scholarly journals
When to use What
• Scholarly Journals
Topic Current or Old?
– Scholarly Journals (Images5, 2013)
Searching is a Mental
• Games and activities
– Problem Solving
– Research Skills
• Games and Activities
– Step by step process
“To prosper in the
people must become
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