“So far we have found that no matter where students are enrolled, no matter what information resources they may have at their disposal, and no matter how much time they have, the abundance of information technology and the proliferation of digital information resources make conducting research paradoxical: Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than it did in previous times.”
Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg. Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age. Project Information Literacy Progress Report. January, 2009. Information School, University of Washington.
So research is now harder than ever, what can we do about it? Improve our information literacy skills. What does information literacy mean and how can we improve it?
Information literacy is defined by the ALA (American Library Association) as a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”
The information literate individual can:
- Determine the extent of information needed
- Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
- Evaluate information and its sources critically
- Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- Understand a source’s context
Initial questions to ask when assessing an information source (article, online source, etc.):
- Who is the author? In the case of an online source, is the author identifiable?
- What are their credentials? What organization are they associated with?
- What can you tell about their reputation among their peers?
- Is the type of material appropriate for the assignment? Is it a professional website or electronic journal (e.g. NY Times or The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) or a non-professional sources such as a personal website or blog?
- What is the objectivity of the piece?
- Does the author state a goal or objective?
- Who do you think their intended audience was?
- Does the information appear as valid or well-researched?
- What can you tell about the quality of the piece?
- Is the information or website well organized?
- When was the piece published? Is the information still valid?
Remember: the key concerns are: authorship, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage.
A quick word on online searching:
A study in 2000 found that the primary qualities required of search engines and electronic databases are: accessibility, timeliness, readability, relevance, and authority (1). The internet is good at the first three. This is not to suggest that the web cannot be a valid source of information but using web pages and other non-traditional sources necessitates a high level of reading and information literacy skills. Often, instead of searching ineffectively on the internet, students can usually (and more easily) find appropriate resources from library databases.
(1) Kibirge, H.M. & DePalo, L. (2000). “The Internet as a source of academic research information: findings of two pilot studies.”Information Technology and Libraries
Further Reading on Information Literacy
Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.
A visually literate individual is able to:
• Determine the nature and extent of the visual materials needed
• Find and access needed images and visual media effectively and efficiently
• Interpret and analyze the meanings of images and visual media
• Evaluate images and their sources
• Use images and visual media effectively
• Design and create meaningful images and visual media
• Understand many of the ethical, legal, social, and economic issues surrounding the creation and use of images and visual media, and access and use visual materials ethically