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April 2003 Issue

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Learning Technology

By Tracey A. Stuckey-Mickell, College Reading & Learning Program, Northern Illinois University 

Email: tstuckey@niu.edu

Using Information Literacy for Computer Research Success: Part 1

NOTE: This is part one of a two-part article on how to help students improve their computer research skills through applying Information Literacy Standards.

The Problem

At some point before graduation, nearly every college student is required to conduct research and write a fully referenced research report. As a teacher of freshman level college reading and study skills courses, I have discovered that many students begin college without the proper knowledge or tools to effectively engage in college level research. Their research experiences are usually limited to small-scale research projects (sometimes not properly referenced or not referenced at all) completed during high school, thus their understanding of the research process and how to effectively find, evaluate, and utilize information sources are usually not sufficient for their new needs as a college student. In high school they may or may not have used computers to help meet their research needs, whereas in college, they will most likely be required to do so.

Further complicating the needs of college-level student researchers is the pervasive use of the World Wide Web (WWW) for research. The WWW is a free, unregulated information medium. It is dynamic in that its contents are constantly changing and being modified. It is vast and contains wide ranges of information types from “non-information” such as advertisements, pornography, and entertainment sites to research studies and online scholarly journals. Our students, when searching for quality information, are placed in a quite a quandary. They are at risk for suffering headaches due to information overload or writing research papers based upon information that is not of the best quality (or both). I can barely determine which is worse! As learning skills professionals, how do we help our students wade through the vast amounts of “stuff” and find quality information to reference in their papers?

One Solution

The Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has one possible solution for us—the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. The ACRL has defined information literacy as a set of skills that enable a person to recognize and describe a need for information and meet that need by finding, evaluating, and effectively using information (http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilintro.html, accessed 1/30/03).
Below is a list of the Information Literacy Competency Standards. To find more detailed information such as performance indicators and outcomes, visit the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards website (above).

  1. The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  2. The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  3. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  4. The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
  5. The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

Applying the Solution

OK, so we have one possible solution—how do we apply it? There are several ways to have students increase their information literacy levels and computer research skills. Having students use web searching tutorials (such as http://home.sprintmail.com/~debflanagan/main.html) or WebQuests (see http://webquest.sdsu.edu/) as part of a research project module or setting up library/computer searching instruction with your institution are some effective ways to help students get the practice they need—especially with using the WWW for research. Visit again next month to read about some specific plans for applying the Information Literacy Standards for computer research success.


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