My Continuing Journey of Teaching about Research and Reliability
As a parent of three, this journey began a long time ago. I was a Stay-At-Home parent for 15 years before returning to school to embark on a new career – teaching. In my BK (Before Kids) life, I was a Legal Assistant. The ability to conduct research and find reliable information was second nature for me. Evidence was always needed to support any statement. When I left the legal world in 1995, the internet was only just emerging, and it was slow. Even though I was raising children, I maintained my technology skills and embraced the internet when it became readily available for home use. My children were toddlers at this time, but as they grew, I ensured they understood how to use the internet safely and appropriately. We discussed, on numerous occasions, the different ways, and places, to search for information, and how to determine if it is true. Now, teaching three kids these skills is easy, 28 in a classroom is a bit more difficult, but manageable as you are able to reinforce your message on a daily basis. A challenge arises when you teach 318 students only once a week. This blog will explore some challenges I have encountered together with some possible solutions.
Challenges and Possible Solutions
My Grade 5/6/7 students are creating independent Genius Hour Projects, and despite my efforts to teach the skills needed to find and evaluate websites, I’ve discovered these skills are not ‘sticking’. [My primary students in Grade 3 and 4 are learning how to search using Kidrex.org or Kiddle. In many cases, resources have already been found and posted in Google Classroom for the students to access. This is because they are still learning how to search effectively and our time in the library is limited. Digital literacy skills are cyclical and progressive, and will, hopefully, continue to improve as students progress through the grades and build on a solid foundation.]
This video created by ERAC explains how databases are a great resource for students because the information “Sticks Like Gum”.
As a new Teacher-Librarian (TL) at the school, I’m unsure of what has been taught in the past. I’ve asked teachers about digital literacy lessons, and I know some have been covered, but I’m unaware of the depth. “One lesson a year on the topic won’t transfer to lifelong learning” (Abilock, 2012). I do know the intermediate teachers use technology regularly for research, but are the students merely searching, and not really finding? Many students, despite being taught how to do a ‘keyword’ search, still type in their entire question when searching for information. As William Badke says in “The Convenience Factor in Information Searching”, “Convenience trumps all other reasons for selecting and using a source” (2014). Students have been taught how to use the ERAC databases, but still choose to use Google. Students do not understand how to conduct a proper Google, or database, search.
This video demonstrates how Google searches for information.
An explanation of how to develop search terms.
The students are collecting all of their information in Google Slides, and are required to provide a link to their information. When I asked one student why there was no link, she replied, “But, I just know the information is true!” To which I responded, “When making a statement of fact, we must provide evidence to support our statement. We have to be able to prove the information is true and reliable.” I have reiterated this to my students on numerous occasions, and we have discussed how to evaluate information and websites. Students do not understand the importance of verifying information.
Both videos below explain how to evaluate web sources.
Some students have learned to “satisfice (both satisfy and suffice)” when conducting research, but many have not because they use the first search result in Google, and it’s usually Wikipedia. I have no issue with using Wikipedia as a starting point, but students must find other sources to corroborate their information. Many of my younger (Grade 5) students struggle with Wikipedia because they find it too dense to read, so they find other sources, but then claim they are unable to find any information. The reality is they do not closely read the information on the screen in front of them. Students have difficulty reading the information and ‘making meaning’ from the text. [Michael Manderino has written an article that includes some suggestions on how to help students improve their close reading of digital texts.]
Abilock’s Rules of Thumb
Debbie Abilock wrote, “How can students know if the information they find online is true – or not?”, which includes some ‘rules of thumb’ that can be used when judging the truthfulness of information.
Abilock also explains some factors that explain how personal judgment affects our willingness to believe, or not believe, what we read.
- We need to understand that we evaluate the credibility of data using our gut, or intuition – we believe something because it confirms our existing values and beliefs.
- Our cultural background also influences our willingness to believe information.
- Technology also plays a role in our decision – we are more willing to believe Google, because it is more familiar to us than Bing or Wolfram Alpha.
Here are some ‘rules of thumb’, or ‘digital reading strategies’ that Abilock has created to help students, and adults, learn how to navigate the information they find online. She advises though that “rules of thumb are shortcut evaluation measures”, and it is still important to question a source if you still have concerns about reliability.
- Who’s weighing in? Peer review is generally how academic articles are vetted, but Google’s page ranking algorithm of clicks and links can provide links to its importance and relevance.
- Who’s setting the record straight? If mistakes are discovered in a publication, and they are publicly acknowledged by the author or blogger, this is a sign of truthfulness.
- What do other sources say? Accuracy can be determined by comparing the dates and times of news sources, and comparing three different viewpoints through triangulation -contacting a primary source, finding an original document, and finding a different source to review the facts.
- Who’s behind the chart? Visual displays can be a helpful way to compare information, but what are the interests of the person who created the infographic? Data can easily be manipulated.
These ‘rules of thumb’ are a ‘shortcut evaluation measure’ that can be used to help students find information, which can then be further validated using Kathy Schrock’s 5W’s of Website Evaluation. If the students begin to question the believability of ‘natural tasks’ they do on a daily basis, such as finding a map, a photo, or a news article, they will, hopefully, become masters at finding truthful information. As a TL, I am so privileged to work with the same students every year, so my journey will continue, and as the students progress through the grades, I hope they build a solid foundation in understanding how to rate the reliability of the information they seek.
Abilock, D. (2012). How can students know whether the information they find online is true – or not? Educational Leadership 69(6): 70-74, retrieved from http://teachers.olatheschools.com/edu805/files/2013/06/True-or-Not.pdf
Badke, W. (2014). The convenience factor in information seeking. Online Searcher 38(6): 68-70.
Bromann-Bender, J. (2013). You can’t fool me: Website evaluation.” Library Media Connection 31(5): 42-45.
Fontichiaro, K. (2012). Recognizing good information: Beyond Wikipedia. School Library Monthly 28(6): 50-51.
Manderino, M. (2015). Reading and Understanding in the Digital Age. Reading Today, 32(4), 22-23.
Schrock, K. (2016). The 5W’s of Website Evaluation. Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything. Retrieved from http://www.schrockguide.net/uploads/3/9/2/2/392267/5ws.pdf