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Survey Examines Students' Web Research Skills

Researchers who work on the online bibliography formatting tool EasyBib have released a two-year study of information literacy in students. They've examined the perspectives of both librarians and students and have presented the data in their infographic "Trends in Information Literacy: A Comparative View."

The study shows that librarians have little confidence in student skill level when it comes to both properly paraphrasing and identifying credible Web sources in research when compared to students’ evaluations of themselves. 

When it comes to having an advanced understanding of these practices, librarians believed that 2 percent of students were skilled at evaluating website credibility, with 3 percent believing that students could properly paraphrase.

Librarian and professional development coordinator at EasyBib Emily Gover finds the statistic of student understanding of website credibility “visibly alarming” as its decreased over the past two years. She attributes having a significantly larger and more diverse sample size in their 2014 survey as a factor that skews the results. She also noted that “the use of mobile technology for personal use has increased dramatically” over the past two years as well, going on to say that “it is not uncommon for students to have multiple Internet-connected devices.” 

“People often take what they see in their news feeds at face value (even articles from The Onion!). Students are not critically thinking about information they come across throughout the day, and this data shows that that mindset does not shift when it comes to school assignments,” said Gover. 

“Anecdotally, I have too often heard stories about librarians being cut from schools, or one librarian managing a district of thousands of students--teaching these refined yet crucial analytical skills is a near-impossible task considering the many responsibilities school librarians have to balance every day.”

EasyBib gathered results in 2012 and again in 2014 in order to understand library, research, and media programs regarding comprehension in terms of website credibility, spotting plagiarism, and more. The voluntary surveys covered elementary, middle and high school librarians and media specialist in addition to other related positions in and beyond K-12. 

Around 60 percent of surveyed librarians and media specialists see students choosing to use Internet resources over what they can find in their library, such as academic journals and newspaper databases. Student answers matched. As of 2014, 58.7 percent of students also said that Google and other search engines are their preferred or exclusive research tool. 

Gover highlighted that Google dominates the research landscape.

“Google has become this somewhat pervasive entity in our lives. It's a verb; it's most people's gateway to the Internet; it's extraordinary how much we rely on it to find information. I don't think there will ever be a day where students don't use Google in some capacity for their research, even at the academic level,” said Gover.

“Project Information Literacy reported a few years ago that 90% of students use Google in course-related contexts. The reality is that this is a tool they are going to use, and given their comfort level with using it, teachers and librarians should find ways to demonstrate how it can be tailored to improve the search results (e.g., using Boolean operators, the advanced search, or Google Scholar). Of course, it is imperative for students to learn other critical research skills, but we should ensure that they know how to best use the tool we know that they rely on.”

Students’, most of which came from high school, insight into their skills showed 36.1 percent believing that they have a deep understanding of website evaluation, with 14.2 percent admitting that their knowledge is limited or nonexistent. 

Librarians and media specialists often help students develop skill sets for careers in journalism, politics, the arts, historic studies, film making, and law. Gover offered some ways on how they can be better integrated into student learning. 

“Librarians are crucial in all subject areas, and co-teaching with classroom teachers and other specialists throughout a unit is a simple way to expand their role in the learning experience. Allowing the kids to see that library skills are embedded in every aspect of their school curriculum, as well as the types of resources that are available to them at the library, is hugely beneficial,” said Gover. 

“Teachers can team up with the school librarian on research assignments to not only improve student research skills, but also compile valuable resources that students can use in their assignment, potentially lowering the likelihood of using Google.”

See the infographic Trends in Information Literacy: A Comparative View here


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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