Teaching Digital Tools for Research

June 21, 2016

We typically think of our public school learners as “digital natives” since they have grown up immersed in various technologies. In my experience, it is rare that students are proficient in using technology to retrieve credible information during research. As educators, we should work to teach these best practices to empower our students in an information-rich world. I would like to share a few tools we regularly teach to our learners in the library media center at Lakeside High School.

I show Britannica School to students in grades 8-12 at our school as part of my orientation to databases and other electronic resources. Students always find the numerous articles, photos, and videos in Britannica School helpful for their research topics. One of the other student favorites in Britannica School is found in the “Related” tab of each article. The links found in “The Web’s Best Sites” have been reviewed by Britannica editors. I always like to show this area of the site to students because they are so accustomed to using Web search engines. This has been an effective way to teach them about Web site evaluation and using credible sources. I like to remind them that the evaluation of resources has been done for them on the Britannica site. It has been a great investment for our learning community.

One of the other tools I enjoy showing our learners is how to access our wide range of databases as important research sources for credible articles. One powerful way to teach the importance of this is to compare and contrast the search results of a database with the results from Google. We also demonstrate how sources found in a basic Google search must be evaluated by the learner. In addition, we examine the number of search results. Our learners are always shocked at the extreme number of Google search results as compared to those from databases. These are important skills for our students to develop.

Another best practice I enjoy sharing is the process of creating citations within research products. Our English and history teachers regularly ask me to assist them in presenting methods for citing sources in the MLA format. When I present Britannica School and other databases, it is easy to share how these tools create citations. This is often a tedious task for younger students, but we have found that it becomes second nature to our learners by the time they are juniors and seniors. In addition, we have used EasyBib.com for many years as a citation creator for Web sites and books.

Our learning communities are overwhelmed with information from a variety of sources every day. When we as information professionals present to our teachers and students credible alternatives, it helps them create better research practices as lifelong learners. They must learn to question and evaluate information sources. Using credible tools will change how our students conduct research for their current classroom projects. Teachers benefit because they get better products from their learners. Students that develop these research skills now will be paving their paths to becoming college and career ready.