Information literacy: Teach your students to be critical online researchers

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December 8, 2014 by HCDE Communications

Information literacy: Teach your students to be critical online researchersInformation literacy is an educated approach to finding and evaluating information. We are told that our primary goal as teachers is to teach the whole child. If this is true, then we must adapt to the ever-changing world that our students are born into.

Teaching students to effectively seek out, evaluate and utilize information they find online is no longer just for the computer science classroom. Using search tools like Google, Google Scholar and other search-related tools aren’t as simplistic as responding to the very first link in a query. In order for our students to be successful citizens and competent adults, we must give them the important critical skills  to research information online. Then we must show them how to apply the information to help solve problems or create something new. Students must learn to ask the right questions, to formulate a proper search statement and to critically evaluate the value of the information they find through online searches.

Kids are curious. By their very nature, they love to explore and experience the wonders of the world around them in a way that many adults no longer do. Add to this sense of wonder a resource like the Internet. Today’s generation is labeled “the most curious generation” because of their propensity to seek out digital information resources to answer questions. While our students may be greatly informed by what they find online, the value of online information is dependent on their information-seeking literacy skills.

While most teachers find the prospect of teaching information literacy to be overwhelming, it’s often as easy as making some short-and-simple changes to existing lesson plans. No matter the grade level, you can teach your students about information literacy without completely changing your lesson content:

1. Rather than lecture, work with your students to pose a research question and let them try to find the answer online.

Try to help your students identify high-value keywords to plug into a search engine while also focusing on ways to expand on the information that they find. The best research questions explore the impact of something or its contribution to a bigger idea.

Example: To teach a lesson about the Large Hadron Collider, instead of lecturing you ask students to research the impacts of the collider on modern medicine or computer circuitry. “When, where, what, why and who” questions pose little risk for inconclusive or misleading online searches, even for young kids. Most kids have issues with information accuracy and face dilemmas over the value of information when exploring big ideas, controversies or ethics surrounding a topic.

2. If your students use an online search tool to find information on classroom assignments, engage them in a discussion about the value of their search results and their processes for searching.

Focusing on the process of searching has tremendous value in cementing foundational search skills in K-12 students. It’s extremely valuable to start talking to students about the anatomy of a search result link and how to use the information returned in a search result to help clear up information on the link page.

Remember, most search engines return values based on qualities other than the “correctness” of the information. Google looks at the frequency of page access, keywords and cross-linking of a page to determine its value in a search result.

If your students find a certain search process to be valuable, encourage them to make notes of techniques that work well for them.

3. Periodically introduce an advanced search feature to help your students make better use of search tools online.

Whether you choose to model the use of an advanced search feature or just share a tip/trick with your students, you’ll be amazed at how readily students begin to explore advanced searching. You may want to start with simple features that allow students to narrow their time frame or media type or expand into a quick discussion on the use of Boolean expressions to more specifically narrow a search.

For better techniques for searching, Google has two online courses that introduce students to more complex and focused search processes. These courses help students to narrow down search results and guarantee better results:

For additional details about information literacy, look to your school’s librarian for help in adjusting your lessons or teaching newer and better research techniques. No matter what you do, just getting students to critically approach how they locate information online can go a long way to satiating their curiosity.

About the Blogger:
David McGeary, manager of innovation at HCDE, spends his days exploring the ways that old and new digital tools and resources can be used to enhance a student’s ability to learn new things, collaborate with learners anywhere and share new ideas with the world. When not hard at work, David enjoys playing classical guitar, practicing photography or doing anything his new wife tells him to do.


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