The use of digital technology in education places boundless information resources in the hands of students. Yet, the ability to access information does not translate into the Internet research skills to filter out the useless and focus on the relevant. How do your information literacy skills stack up?
More Than Google
Students conducting research on the Internet are likely to use the Google search engine as their primary tool. After searching on keywords, students tend to use the first few hits, never examining other, possibly relevant results. Paul D. Thacker questioned students’ ability to get the most out of digital technology in his November 15, 2006 article for InsideHigherEd.com titled, “Are College Students Techno Idiots?”
Citing a 2006 report by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which found that students lacked basic skills in information literacy, Thacker noted, “Results also show that students might even lack the basics on a search engine like Google. When asked to narrow a search that was too broad, only 35 percent of students selected the correct revision. Further, 80 percent of students put irrelevant points into a slide program designed to persuade an audience.”
The Google Effect
Students may not realize that Google search results are ranked based on criteria that include:
- The number of times keywords are listed on the page
- The age of the web page—older pages rank higher
- The number of incoming links to that page from other pages
Does a higher Google ranking mean that the page is an appropriate source? Not necessarily. Some websites gain a high ranking based more on their popularity than their relevance.
Finding Dulcinea is a website with numerous resources for students including a guide to evaluating websites. The section titled, “Students’ Guide to Web Search” points out that not all websites are accurate: “No matter what you search for, one of the top results that you’ll often get is Wikipedia. Wikipedia allows anyone to add or edit information, and doesn’t verify whether that information is accurate or correct. Though Wikipedia is okay for reading about pop culture and nonacademic matters, it can’t be considered a reliable source of information for study or school projects.”
Information Literacy Curriculum
What should a curriculum for teaching information literacy include? Using the ETS report as a guide, one would include information on how to evaluate websites in terms of their:
Unfortunately, 2006 ETS survey results indicated that “overall, only 40 percent of test-takers identified the one website that met all criteria.” Moreover, students often forget that other, useful resources such as almanacs, maps, and research data can be found in print at their library.
Tips for Evaluating Web Sources
You’ll want to look for sources created by experts. Sources without dates or the name of the author are less reliable than a dated source written by someone with authority such as a scientist or professor. The bottom of the web page often contains a copyright date as well as a notation of when the page was last updated.
You will be most likely to find reliable information on web sites whose domains end with:
Most sites have an “About” page where you can read about the person or organization that created the site. Be sure to check this page to find out more about those providing the information. Follow any links that will lead you to more information about the site’s creators and sponsors. When you do, ask yourself:
- Who created this information?
- Why did they put the information here?
- Do they have a reason to be biased on the topic?
- When was the last time this information was updated?
The World’s Largest Online Library
Reliable academic research always includes citations to scholarly works from sources that have been peer reviewed. Searching for such articles is made easier with tools such as those found at research sites like Questia.com, the world’s largest online library, where students can get topic ideas and information on such subjects as: art, education, history, law and many more.