This post was written by Langsdale librarian Catherine Johnson
A recent Mashable article pointed to some data
collected by EasyBib
about the types of resources students use in academic papers. This study
found that the most cited websites are: Wikipedia, New York Times and YouTube.
Four of the top ten most cited websites feature user-generated content
(that’s content that is contributed by anyone – from an expert to a novice).
the last two months of the spring 2012 semester, I taught a few library
instruction sessions. I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea.
Professors gather their students for a day in the library to learn all
they need to know about research in an hour and twenty minutes. I start
the sessions by asking students what kinds of sources they cite in their paper.
They usually confess that they use websites, Wikipedia and YouTube most
often. To follow that discussion, I asked students to look at three
articles (a scholarly article, a magazine
article and a website) about a particular topic.
I asked students to rank those resources from “best” to “worst” for
inclusion in a paper.
almost always said the scholarly journal article was “best” and the website was
“worst.” Students explained that they rated the scholarly source as best
because they could tell who had written it, they could tell that person was an
expert and they could see all the sources that person used to write the
article. They often listed other reasons, but those three usually came up
then posed the following question to the students, “If you know the scholarly
source is better and you’ve identified these qualities that help you recognize
its quality, why do you continue to use websites, Wikipedia and YouTube videos
as sources in your work?”
usually respond by explaining that it’s easier and more familiar to find
sources using Google or a similar search engine. They decided that the
sources they were finding there were good enough to complete the work they were
is where information literacy comes in. In
addition to teaching students that there are sources beyond Google (they usually
already know that) and showing them how to get to those sources (they could
probably figure that out on their own if they were motivated to do so),
information literacy should instill a drive in students to find the best
information possible. Information literacy can help students recognize
those great sources when they find them. It can help students discern
reliable sources from unreliable sources. It can help them understand
what kinds of sources are appropriate to answer their research need. It
can help them understand how to use those sources effectively.
literacy really helps students help themselves. Heck, I’ve been
talking about students through this post but it’s not just about students, is
it? It’s about people. Information literacy is one of those skills
you’ll (hopefully) learn in college without really recognizing you’ve learned
it. It’ll be one of those ingrained skills that stick with you and you
call upon daily to ferret out the good information from the bad. You’ll
use information literacy to get a leg up on the competition because you’re
armed with better information in this knowledge and information driven society.
Information literacy will help you make better informed choices about
health care, employment, child care and anything else that’s important to you.
you’re interested in learning more about information literacy, take a look at: Understanding Information Literacy: A primer