Web Research Skills: Teaching Your Students the Fundamentals

It is ironic that in the era of the Internet anyone should have any issues concerning basic research skills. The Internet, after all, is the richest, most versatile, and most complete information repository in the history of mankind. While the Internet has greatly increased choices for and the quality of research tools, it has also brought with it some challenges and impediments.

Simply put, the Internet is overwhelming people with information. Even so-called “information experts” and  research skills teacher are struggling to keep up with all the changes and the multi-faceted new choices. Information overload, therefore, is one of the most powerful reasons why some students are struggling with their research conducting abilities.

What about the student basics or fundamentals?

The biggest reason why some students are not doing well in the area of research abilities is probably because many of them have not acquired the fundamental or student basics necessary for doing any kind of research—whether on or off the Internet. Some of these important, but often overlooked, student basics (skills) include:

  • Good listening skills: Students today have to be as good at processing oral/spoken input as written communication. What is happening, however, is that more and more students are depending on/using spoken/oral communication (e.g., YouTube) and when they do turn to written communication, it usually involves newscasts and social media. The listening skills required for these tools are, simply put, different than those needed for serious academic communication.
  • Lack of focus: In this microwaving, fast-food society many people want things to happen too fast. Their attention is being pulled in too many directions. This is a problem when complicated subjects are being studied.
  • Lack of familiarity with databases: Some people don’t even realize that their local libraries have a place meant specifically for serious research (as opposed for the lighthearted research you can conduct with a search engine.
  • Poor writing skills: Many times it’s not the research that’s lacking but the ability to translate what students discover into coherent, well-organized extrapolations.

How are students currently doing with basic research?

The most recent Project Information Literacy Progress Report posits that about 84 percent of students have difficulty getting course-related research off the ground; they also express having difficulty figuring out the difference between scholarly sources and non-scholarly sources. As for the latter, the problem is that scholarly research can be found through search engines (such as Google) but, also, much of the material on these popular search engines is not suitable for scholarly work.

How can you help students develop better research skills?

Don’t assume students know how to use the Internet for scholarly research. Here are some tips to get started.

  1. Take students by the hand and teach them about each specific research tool one at a time.
  2. Give students written instructions on preferred research tools.
  3. Encourage students to use databases as much as possible.
  4. Make sure your school/program has classes on research skills development.
  5. Work with other professionals in order to set up proactive research skills-building tools.
  6. Before classes get going, test each student to see where he/she stands individually on research skills.
  7. Stay abreast of the latest information/technology on the subject.
  8. Work to enhance/increase the number of research skills development programs.
  9. Encourage students to use resources beyond the Internet.

Conclusion

There are not enough of what we call a “research skills teacher.” Actually, every instructor needs to become a research skills teacher. Students can develop the skills they need but only if they are taught them at every stage of their education.

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Consider this your online guide on challenges, issues and advice facing K-12 educators in the 21st century. You will find “how to” articles, list(s) of resources for the classroom and information on the latest education trends and theories. There is also information on higher education--for students and faculty--that will help both groups successfully navigate challenging learning environments.

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