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Teaching students how to be critical evaluators of information they encounter during online research is an essential life skill

3 ways students can develop solid online research skills

Teaching students how to be critical evaluators of information they encounter during online research is an essential life skill

Today’s 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 this information into learning. Gen Z doesn’t necessarily think critically about what they find online.

As educators, we can teach the academic side of the internet to them.

Why is it so critical?

• Online research skills and critical writing are among must-haves for students’ progress through college life and future career.
• 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.
Surveys demonstrate that many students don’t understand how to use online sources to support their arguments.

Educators can help students evaluate online information efficiently. Its volume keeps growing, and it’s significant for young people to know how to separate the gems from the garbage and become critical writers and consumers, not just viewers.

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

  1. Critical evaluation
    Let’s explain the dimensions of critical evaluation to our students. When researching a website, they should keep in mind its relevance, reliability, and accuracy.

• To examine relevance and accuracy, a student should consider the quality of the content.
• To examine the 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 them to consider and compare several sources. It might be challenging, but websites such as Teaching Channel or Read Write Think can help.

  1. Effective judgment
    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 them to consider. Depending on the purpose, teach students to consider resources that:

• are valuable for deeper research on language and literature;
• allow finding reliable information on STEM disciplines;
• 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 that some students believe all online resources are of the same quality: They type a keyword into Google and use the info they see from the first result only. Though Google remains the #1 go-to source, students should understand that its top results sometimes don’t offer enough depth they need.

Please 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.

  1. 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 students to scholarly search engines (Ebsco, LexisNexis) and “Advanced Search” by Google. They encourage deeper research, allowing to find credible information and scholarly papers that are more accurate to refer to on particular topics.

Also, you might want to share some checklists 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:

• Is it relevant to my purpose?
• Who is the author of this information?
• Is this person (institution) credible enough?
• Is the information on this website updated regularly?
• Where and how can I check the accuracy of this information?
• How can I connect the information to my purpose, questions, and interpretations?

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

Academic Index
Project Muse
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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