Teaching Resources and Tips from CBU Librarians

Edited by: 
Mary Dobson, MLIS

When most of us entered university, we learned to do research using the “tools of the trade” that were then at our fingertips, library books and journals. Today’s students have had the world [wide web] at their fingertips since kindergarten. The student who only uses web sites for assignments may assume a good knowledge of the web for he/she has used it for “research” for a long time.  The problem is that rather than building knowledge from defining the topic, considering and evaluating a variety of sources and points of view, as is expected in university, the research process this student knows may involve using the web to find an answer to a specific question.

Before considering a solution to this practice, it is worth noting that there are actually several factors at play which are at once buoying this student’s confidence in the “web research” methodology used yet confusing him/her at the same time. The fact is the web always delivers something and some type of success is guaranteed.  And, although this generation of undergraduates grew up on the web, the student who is only using web sites may not know how to evaluate the information found, in part, because he/she may not have been required to evaluate content in the past. As well, some of these “digital natives” are not as “web-savvy” as we may think for a good portion of their time is now spent on social media rather than web searching.  

 Further complicating the matter is that most published academic research is now delivered via the web.  Whereas we knew the place to find course research was on a library shelf, this student may not differentiate between a web site and a journal article perhaps because both items are found in the same place –on  the web.  As well, this student may not recognize that the publication process is far more rigourous than posting something on a web site or a blog.   

Whereas, ”library” instruction is sometimes focused on demonstrating databases  that this  student may see as just another place “on the web” to find the right answer, it  may be time to go beyond the functionality of the database and teach students more about the research process and content.  Working together, faculty and librarians can develop strategies that teach students to define their research, evaluate content, and sources of that content whether print-based, web-based, or web sites, thereby making students “information literate”.  We urge you to contact your School Librarian to discuss subject- specific strategies to further your students’ learning.   For specific research on information literacy go to Project Information Literacy[PIL] at:  http://projectinfolit.org/  And, for a “visual” of the numbers, this YouTube video from PIL nicely summarizes research on university students’ research strategies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdBFjh3xxGM