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Helping Your Students Do Efficient Online Research

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Our students don't know the world without the Internet. They spend days and nights on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat but hardly know how to translate all the information into learning. Gen Z doesn't necessarily think critically about what they find online, and we, as educators, should teach the academic side of the Internet to them.

Why is it so important?

  1. Surveys demonstrate that many students don't understand how to use online sources to support their arguments.
  2. Studies show that young people don't focus on the credibility of sources they use: they can't explain why they choose certain websites, authors, and publications.
  3. Online research skills are among must-haves for students' progress through college life and future career.

Educators can help students to evaluate online information efficiently. Its volume keeps growing (500+ new websites appear every minute), and it's significant for young people to know how to separate the gems from the garbage and become critical consumers, not just viewers.

So, how can we help youngsters do efficient online research and navigate information easily?


1) Critical Evaluation

Explain the dimensions of critical evaluation to your students. When researching a website, they should keep in mind its relevance, reliability, and accuracy.

  1. To examine relevance and accuracy, a student should consider the quality of the content.
  2. To examine reliability, a student should consider the authors and their agenda.

Encourage students to forget about Wikipedia as a one-stop website for academic research. Teach to consider and compare several sources. It might be challenging, but the websites such as Teaching Channel or Read Write Think can help.


2) Effective Judgement

Your students follow the purpose of their project to understand what websites would fit it best. Content published by governments, universities, and credible media outlets is of higher quality for students to consider. Depending on the purpose, teach to consider resources that:

  1. are valuable for deeper research on language and literature;
  2. allow finding reliable information on STEM disciplines;
  3. help with writing essays on general topics.

Introduce cross-checking information to students and encourage them to explore several pieces for proving the accuracy and reliability of the reference.

The problem is, some students equal research and typing a word into Google search to use the info from the first link. Though Google remains #1 go-to source, students should understand that it sometimes doesn't offer enough depth they need for research. So, teach strategic search to students and provide them with several newspaper websites that have searchable archives. Kentucky Virtual Library and Google Scholar might be a good start.


3) Effective Usage

Teach students to determine the difference between news, personal, professional, and commercial websites. Explain that the .edu, .gov, and .org domains are more reliable to use for academic purposes, as they commonly provide users with accurate and relevant content.

Introduce your students to scholarly search engines (Ebsco, LexisNevis) and "Advanced Search" by Google. They encourage deeper research and allow to find credible information, as well as scholarly papers that are more accurate to refer to on particular topics.

Also, you might want to share some checklist with students to help them with efficient online academic research. Ask them to answer the following questions each time they evaluate a website and doubt if they can use it as a reference:

  1. Is it relevant to my purpose?
  2. Who is the author of this information?
  3. Is this person (institution) credible enough?
  4. Is the information of this website updated regularly?
  5. Where and how can I check the accuracy of this information?
  6. How can I connect the information to my purpose, questions, and interpretations?

Share a guide to online research with your students and share some top resources on finding relevant data:

  1. Academic Index
  2. Project Muse
  3. World Cat

More resources, as well as tips on efficient research are here.

Despite their digital literacy, it might be tricky for students to interpret all online information into learning. Especially when it comes to critical research, including relevance, accuracy, and reliability of that info. Lessons encouraging students' evaluation skills will allow teachers to exercise academic research and help youngsters become better web consumers.

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Lesley is a private educator of the French language for high school and college students. She is an online tutor and content creator writing for publications on education, career, and self-development. 

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Guest Monday, 18 December 2017