Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Information Literacy

Sometimes students come into my library and brag about how many books they have read. That would be cool if it weren't for the fact that whoever has read the fewest books wins.
I would be less concerned about them not reading books if I knew that they at least were able to find whatever information they needed online. But many students are information illiterate. They don't know how to efficiently use a search engine, how to find other resources and most worrying of all, they don't know how to evaluate the sources they find. Often, they just choose the first Google hit and copy whatever's written there. Part of that is of course because it's the easy way out, but with some, I know that they really think that this is how finding good information online works.

No-one has taught them how to research things properly and no-one has taught them how to find out if a source is reliable. I dearly love Wikipedia and I don't see a problem with students using it, but please: check the sources, read the links and definitely read the Discussion site (the link is right at the top of every article - it can be very informative). Entering the exact question the teacher gave is not how you use Google or any other search engine. Come up with the most relevant phrase for what you search and use the Advanced Search, it's a great tool and you don't even need to know about Boolean operators.

And don't trust books, either. It's not true just because it's printed. People make mistakes, they copy things other authors have written and sometimes the author neglected his fact-checking. Often you can follow a mistake all the way through several books, articles ect. to it's original source. Do some research on the author. Or you may end up thinking that everything David Irving has written about Hitler is true. Peer-reviewing is not just something a bunch of geeky scientists do. Just because many journalists obviously don't bother with doing research it doesn't mean that it's not necessary. In short, look things up. I don't know of a better way to learn things.

Living in a sea of information is great, but you need to learn how to swim or better, learn hot to breathe underwater.

No comments:

Post a Comment