Teaching online research skills

fire hydrantIt’s sometimes astounding to see the simplistic ways in which some students look for information online. Typing a whole question verbatim into Google and then clicking on the first result is what some kids see as “researching online”. Writer Erik Palmer said that “when we prepare (our students) to conduct quality online research, we prepare them for so much more”, and I agree with that. Learning how to do quality, in depth online research teaches critical literacy and analysis and teaches students that all information comes from a certain perspective. So before any online research project, I often go through these steps:

  1. Teach them how to craft a better search query in Google by using search operators. Show them how to use the “Advanced Search Page” in Google.
  2. Look at the URL. It often contains information that can show you if it’s reliable or not. Not all sites are created equally. This comes as a surprise for younger students in particular. Explain how a URL like http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change will propably contain more reliable information than a URL that looks like this: http://damn-human-race.weebly.com/blog/the-great-climate-change-science-scandal#.VPG0n_khfYo. Checking the URL should only be their first port of call.
  3. Every website should be checked for credibility, purpose, and reliability.
    1. Credibility: Is there a verifiable author or organisation behind the page? Who is this person or organisation? Do they have expertise?
    2. Purpose: WHY was the site created? Is there a personal agenda, why?
    3. Reliability: Can you find the same information elsewhere? Can you corroborate what this information?
  4. Introduce them to citethisforme.com, currently the easiest to use online citation tool.


Some great links:

Different ways teachers address research skills