Question: As we educate students to use the internet to gain knowledge, develop ideas from this new knowledge and work collaboratively with others, how do we ensure they maintain a diligent mind that questions the primary source of where this found knowledge began? And only after that, should they feel comfortable contributing to the learning of others.
Educating students toward understanding, applying and keeping up with information literacy as they navigate finding and gaining knowledge throughout their lives – from early education, higher education, workplace applications and their day-to-day lives – will be a lifelong learning endeavor.
Even with students who have an increased interaction with digital landscapes, we must never assume these fundamental skills of information literacy have been fully developed because with the digital landscape rapidly changing, there are always literacy skills that need to be refreshed and questioned for fluency. The article, Establishing Twenty-first Century Information Fluency, states, “Perpetual commentary of the tech savviness of today’s students creates a misperception that they also possess high information fluency competencies to function in today’s information environment.” (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013)). When it comes to educating students on how to find and gain knowledge using information found online, we must first explicitly teach them how to find knowledge worth consuming and that comes from trusted and reliable primary sources and WHY that is so important. An element of skeptical, yet open, questioning can enable students to steer themselves away from the overload of surface level information and fake news. There is a three-part process of searching for knowledge – grazing, a deep-dive, and a feedback loop. (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013)). Many students are stalling out at the grazing stage or stopping at the deep-dive phase which does not lead them to interpreting, synthesizing and constructing new concepts from their findings which is the feedback loop that can give new voice to a topic thus becoming a knowledge constructor. (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013)).
In order to grow from simply grazing to deep-diving and into feedback loop during and after research, it is essential to gain competency with some key researching skills. The article, Internet Inquiry: Fundamental competencies for Online Comprehension, speaks to the need for students to be able to successfully complete Internet based tasks by: (1) generating high-quality inquiry topics, (2) effectively and efficiently search for information, (3) critically evaluating Internet resources, and (4) connecting ideas across Internet texts. (Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014)). Generating high-quality inquiry topics is essential but my question focuses on the competencies that follow after students determine their topic.
Students need to learn how to search efficiently and deeply for sources that will help them to gain and construct new knowledge. Kathleen Morris’ blog has a very informative post called, Five Tips for Teaching Students How to Research and Filter Information, that breaks down the importance of teaching students how to research and how search engines work to bring you the knowledge it thinks you want. This would be an excellent blog post to explicitly walk students through to understand the intricacies of what it means to use the internet to find information. Below is an excerpt from her blog that beautifully describes what needs to go into teaching students to be information literate. (Morris, 2018).
Students (and teachers) need to navigate:_
- What search terms to put into Google or other search engines
- What search results to click on and read through (while avoiding inappropriate sites!)
- How to determine what information is credible
- How to process, synthesize, evaluate, and present the information
- How to back up research by combining multiple sources of information
- How to cite sources correctly
In addition, if we can start teaching strong information literacy skills at a young age and purposefully build upon these skills age appropriately, then students are bound to move into upper grades, college levels classes with a natural ability to apply these skills as adults with a framework that is rooted in gaining and sharing knowledge in a healthy, safe and productive way. Below is Morris’ ideas of how to get there:
The topic of researching and filtering information can be broken down in so many ways but I believe the best approach involves:
- Starting young and building on skills
- Embedding explicit teaching and mini-lessons regularly
- Providing lots of opportunity for practice and feedback
- Teachers seeking to improve their own skills (it’s easy to stick with old habits!)
Finally, Morris mentions a clear 5-step process that can help students start learning how to search for resources:
I found checkology.org to be an excellent tool for students to check the validity and relevance of resource materials. Checkology can be a starting point for educators on guiding students toward assessing their resources in order to determine this higher-level thinking and go beyond the grazing stage of research (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013)). Educators can use this tool to teach students how to:
- Categorize information
- Make and critique news judgments
- Explore how the press and citizens can each act as watchdogs
- Detect and categorize misinformation
- Interpret and apply the First Amendment
- Compare the ways that different countries protect or restrict press freedom
- Identify logical fallacies and evaluate arguments
- Investigate the impact of personalization algorithms
- Evaluate bias and learn about confirmation bias
The ISTE Standard 3 which focuses on Knowledge Constructor has 4 indicators: (ISTE, 2019)
3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
3c: Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
If educators and students gain mastery in the 3a and 3b indicators, they can then grow into the following indicators, 3c and 3d. I see each of these indicators as steps of a staircase toward information literacy because in order to curate, learn from and create new ideas and theories from resources, students must first be able to find information that is relevant and reliable in order to piece together knowledge for movement toward new ideas and conclusions and, even more exciting, asking new questions to explore.
This is where the heart of my question, maintaining a diligent mind, comes into play. If students can gain mastery of knowledge construction, then instead of thinking of information gathering skills as a list to check off for each resources, they will use these skills in a variety of contexts – face-to-face discussions and debates, papers being written, analyzing information (books, peer papers, scholarly articles, etc) they are reading, classroom discussion, social media commentary, global perspectives and local conversations will start to be examined more methodically. “…an information fluent individual (is) one who can function with ease in a changing environment of information and technologies.” (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013))
If my goal as an educator is to foster diligent, digital mindfulness in students then I must be explicitly teaching them HOW to have a diligent mind – what it should look and sound like as a learner is gaining new knowledge or fact checking knowledge that they are being asked to consume. As a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, this would be practicing research skills and learning sentence stems that encourage asking questions about what they are learning. In addition, having students practice noticing the strength of sources by using the Media Bias chart and learning how to find biases and perspective markers that can sway a reader into believing one thing over another and trying to be aware of perspectives that they may hold and challenging their knee-jerk reactions to information they don’t agree with immediately. All of these observations are relevant in the younger years and can be taught with simpler subjects by asking questions that are relevant to their interests and ages. For example, are zoos good or bad? Asking this question to elementary school students inspires a very emotional and invested answer, I have done it first hand! This is the kind of launching point that can inspire students to dig deep into research, perspective and challenging one’s initial thinking when gaining new information and if educators are ready to teach students some of the skills mentioned above, watch out world, we will have information literate citizens ready to construct their own critical thinking and arguments within many contexts!
Checkology (2019). Retrieved from https://checkology.org
“ISTE Standards for Students” Retrieved from www.iste.org/
Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014). Internet inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 389-399.
Longley, D. (2010) Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/danahlongley/4472897115
Morris, K. (2018). 5 Tips for Teaching Students How to Research and Filter Information. Retrieved from http://www.kathleenamorris.com/2018/02/23/research-filter/
O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 33–39.