I remember being asked by a Music Technologies tutor at an FE college to deliver a session to his learners about how to search and evaluate information online effectively, only to be greeted by the refrain “We told our teacher we don’t need you here!”
Naturally, I was a little disheartened initially, but when we started to explore the topic I realised that the learners had only really begun to scratch the surface of an area in which we are all constantly learning.
I must admit, I had intended to provide a demo of my own technical wizardry in database searching using Boolean logic (how could this fail to impress?), but in light of their initial comments I decided to throw my lesson plan away and go back to the drawing board.
“How do you search the internet? What tools do you use? What problems do you encounter when searching for resources to help with your assignments?” I asked.
These questions provided an interesting starting point to a discussion that revealed that they (and indeed I) did not in fact know everything there was to know about finding quality information on the Internet. However, I did know enough to recognise many of the issues that did arise from the discussion and, more importantly, suggest some strategies for tackling these issues.
This was the beginning of a journey away from a mechanistic approach to teaching information skills towards a more collaborative and active approach that involved the learners.
The aim is essentially for learners to discover for themselves the importance of planning a search and a careful evaluation of the results. An approach that takes learners away from the simplistic keyword search in Google towards a curiosity of the infinite possibilities of alternative sources the Internet has to offer.
A need for improving digital literacy
“…a high proportion of children of all ages, as well as adults of all social classes, showed a lack of a basic critical approach to evaluation of online content, with only around half of all respondents appreciating that some website content might be misinformed, misleading, or biased. These findings have serious implications for the education of adults and children alike.”
I feel that there is definitely a lack of a basic critical approach to evaluating online content, but I also feel that there are specific barriers when teaching information skills to young people. They have been told right through their school and college life that they know “everything there is to know” about technology, that they’re naturally tech savvy and their teachers are “struggling to keep up”.
This can create a resistance to being told anything relating to technology and the Internet. If the learners discover for themselves the need to evaluate content they find online and to seek alternatives to Google they are, I feel, more likely to absorb this into their academic practice.
The tutor’s role is to facilitate this process, not to stand in front of the class and tell them about “reliable domains” and “trustworthy databases”, but instead provide the scaffolding for learners to discover, as a group, the pitfalls and solutions.
Jisc RSC support for digital literacy
By means of discussions and group activities learners should discover for themselves the need to evaluate sources found on the Internet. These materials can be used directly with learners or as staff development materials.
There is a wow factor in some of the outcomes of the sessions, learners have been stunned by their discoveries and even known to ask to begin a feedback session rather than disappear for coffee!
If you want to have a look at the workshop materials they can be downloaded.
A case study illustrating ways these materials have been used with learners can be found on the Excellence Gateway: Bolton Sixth Form College: The Springboard Project.
In addition to this the Jisc Regional Support Centres are putting together a series of resources on developing a positive digital presence and other key aspects of digital literacy to help inform staff development programmes.
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