In a recent Pew Internet study called How Teens Do Research the Digital World, AP and National Writing Project teachers said that one of educators’ top priorities should be to teach students how to “judge the quality of online information.” The study reports that 95 percent of our students do online research, but their research skills are only good or fair. Also, for many students, doing research means Googling. Many students see research as a fast-paced process in which they can get the majority of their answers as quickly as possible, rather than a journey in which questions drive their investigations.
In his article “Curiosity Killed,” Neal Taparia, co-founder of citation creator EasyBib, says that the most-cited source on his site is Wikipedia and “five other top 20 sources [that] are also user-generated websites, including Wiki Answers and Yahoo Voices.” Taparia believes that students’ reliance on Google and Wikipedia “means two things: 1. Students are not questioning the authority of what they find on the Internet. They take information at face value. 2. Student research is incredibly shallow.” Students tend to click on the first two or three hits and don’t question the reliability or authority of the information they find.
Many of our teachers are like those described in the Pew survey. They find themselves spending most of their time persuading students to search beyond Wikipedia, YouTube, and Answers.com to find valid, reliable information. This is a great incentive for teachers to schedule a session with their teacher librarian before they make their next research paper assignment!
And all teachers, regardless of their subject areas, need to stop telling students they don’t have to cite information from other sources. We need to hold kids accountable for where they access information, and teach them the importance of evaluating the quality of their sources. That’ll encourage them to use information from a reliable source—rather than just cutting and pasting from Google and calling it research.
If the research process makes teachers nervous, librarians can and should play a vital role in teaching their students how to navigate sources. Librarians can show students how to patiently and persistently search for valid, reliable, and difficult-to-find online sources. Librarians can work with teachers as they teach students how to think critically and question information to obtain a deeper level of understanding. Librarians can also assist students in compiling their works-cited or reference pages. Librarians can even teach them how to avoid plagiarism!
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