The Information Revolution has given students immediate access to a vast collection of data. Now, simple key word searches return thousands of potential sources. Gone are the days when an astute librarian would teach students how to research printed media. We need to provide students with the skills to become critical consumers of Internet information. Right now.
Water flows through the easiest course. Students doing Internet research will most likely default to the simplest search method – they will open the first information returned on the list. Search engines will display data chronologically, or based on key word/subject relevance. But students must learn that someone else’s relevance or ‘most recent’ does not necessarily apply to their subject. Choice number 3,123 may be much more relevant to them than choice number one.
Who wrote it? Students must consider authorship, especially from Internet sources. Printed media is costly to produce and typically undergoes editorial quality control. However, information pulled from Internet sources does not necessarily receive the same review. We need to help students ‘validate’ information across several sources. Students should also be taught to recognize ‘primary sources’ with firsthand experience of the subject.
What was the author’s purpose for sharing? Perhaps the most important skill to teach students is how to recognize bias. Often, a reader’s opinion may be shaped by the presentation. The same facts can evoke many different perceptions. The author’s bias can be as important as the factual data presented. It is a key element of any message.
When was it written? Unless a student is researching a current event, ‘recent’ should not imply ‘relevant.’ The authoritative source may be many years old, and opinions, as well as inherent bias may change with time. Recognition and articulation of these sometimes-subtle shifts will separate your pupils from your scholars.
Wiki what? Data presented in a nonsubscriber clearinghouse does have value and should be considered. But information presented from these sources should never be accepted at face value. These sites provide a quick means to find out about most subjects, however authorship and validity are sometimes difficult to determine.
Teaching students to use technology is important. Teaching them what to do with the information that they discover is an educational imperative. The ability to assess web credibility and understand basic information architecture is an essential skill set for the 21st Century.
Margaret Reed earned an MAEd from Michigan State University and taught middle and high school history for 10 years. She has been a Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching Mentor since 2009. As an outgrowth of her work in curriculum development at the secondary level, Margaret is pursuing further graduate studies with the goal of commencing a second career in instructional technology design.