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May 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 2

Last month we discussed the importance of information literacy in light of the pervasiveness of the WWW as an information source. We also identified the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education as a possible solution to assist students in developing information literacy skills. This month we will review some specific applications that learning skills professionals can use to help students learn to find, evaluate, and utilize information effectively (most especially web-based information).

Applying the Solution
The Research Module Unit. I have found that conducting research is not a spectator sport. One must engage in the activity in order to fully understand what is required to conduct a good research effort and use information wisely. One way of making sure students participate in research is the use of a research module unit. In the College Reading Program at Northern Illinois University, we have designed such a unit, based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards, to provide freshmen college students with actual research experiences such as understanding the information need, locating and evaluating various types of media, extracting information from sources, using the computer for research, and avoiding plagiarism.

Students are presented with a self-directed instructional module in which they are guided through the research process from beginning to end. Armed with a chapter from a textbook on research skills (we refer them to a chapter from Simon & Schuster’s Writer’s Handbook), students complete activities designed to help them learn about the characteristics and stages of college level research, different types of sources, criteria for evaluating sources, methods for collecting and organizing information, characteristics of plausible conclusions and thesis statements, and purposes and characteristics of different formatting and citation styles (e.g., APA, CM, or MLA).

Additionally students apply research procedures such as planning the project, locating, evaluating and using sources, searching the web effectively, using the library, analyzing data, creating a thesis statement and research questions, developing conclusions, outlining a research report, and applying a formatting style to a list of references. These are actual “real world” behaviors necessary for conducting college level research. For more detailed information about the research module, please feel free to contact me at tstuckey@niu.edu.

Another excellent way to give students practice with web research is to employ WebQuests. WebQuests are moderately structured inquiry-based activities in which students are given a task and a set of resources to use to complete the task. Nearly all information is accessed from the World Wide Web. For our purposes, a series of WebQuests can be designed to address the Information Literacy Standards and give students a chance to practice their research and information literacy skills. Since many college libraries have online catalogs and research databases, it is possible for students to use their institution’s library resources along with the Web (e.g. finding library holdings, accessing journal indices). In this way, students can still appreciate what the library has to offer. For more information on WebQuests and how to design them, visit the WebQuest Page at: http://webquest.sdsu.edu/index.html. The site has a wealth of information provided by the creators of the WebQuest.

Points to Remember
These are but two ways of helping students develop the information literacy skills they need. Let your creativity flow! Feel free to think of other ways to integrate information literacy skills into your courses or services. There are myriad resources on the web about information literacy and using the World Wide Web as an information resource. Also, the library at your institution may offer library instruction services. Take advantage! As long as you remember to have students actively engaged in the processes of research based upon a solid set of information literacy standards, any activity is acceptable. Remember, research is not a spectator sport.

Information literacy has always been important, but in my opinion, it has become even more so due to Internet technology and the WWW. More than ever, we are faced with the task of recognizing an information need, locating information, and making the decision to keep or discard a piece of information we find. Improving students’ levels of Information literacy can help them learn to make these important decisions during college and beyond.


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