Teaching Internet Information Literacy: A Critical Evaluation

By O'Sullivan, Michael; Scott, Thomas | MultiMedia Schools, March/April 2000 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Internet Information Literacy: A Critical Evaluation

O'Sullivan, Michael, Scott, Thomas, MultiMedia Schools

[Editor's Note: This feature is the first in a two-part series that shares the practical results of the authors' action research project, modeling the power of collaboration between library media specialists and classroom educators. The second, to appear in the next issue of MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLS, will present the authors' findings from a questionnaire administered to 309 students in grades 9 through 12 in their social studies and language arts/communication classes. The reasons students use the Internet, the frequency of usage, student likes and dislikes of the technology, and how students evaluated their own Internet use skills will be examined. In addition, the authors will discuss how collaborative efforts among school librarians and teachers can promote information literacy throughout the school's curriculum.]

Internet Dependence

One benefit of the Internet is the quantity of information available. When a search is done [on] a topic many thousands of sites come up containing information on that topic, so a person almost has unlimited information.

As this comment from a student at our high school illustrates, the Internet has become a definitive resource for students conducting research. However, in the rush to connect schools to this "information superhighway," little research has been conducted at the classroom level to evaluate the Internet as a learning tool.

Teachers and librarians face a dilemma with respect to the use of the Internet in the classroom and as a research tool. As teachers in a high school, we witness the high school students' infatuation with the Internet on a daily basis. No matter what their topic, students are convinced they can find it on the Internet.

What is this fascination among high school students with the Internet? Why will they ignore all the other resources at their disposal, determined to find it on the Net? Recent articles in the literature cite examples of ways students are becoming more dependent on the Internet as their sole source of information. While students may be technologically sophisticated, they are deficient when it comes to developing effective research strategies and judging Internet information.

Personal observation of student use and acceptance of Internet information and comments from the literature prompted us to analyze student use of the Internet in a two-prong action research study This article discusses the design, development, and analysis of results from an Internet Information Literacy unit.

Reliability Dilemma?

The perception that the Internet provides easy access to a vast array of information is a powerful inducement for students to utilize it for conducting research. However, the ability to separate good information from bad information on the Internet is a complex task.

About a year ago, we were involved in an all-too-familiar high school Internet research scenario. One of the students in the social studies class was using the Internet to find information on her topic of "capital punishment." She had located a site featuring quotations about the death penalty from former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and Coretta Scott King. Since a bibliography was required, the student requested help in identif.Ning the author of this Web site.

Identifying a specific author or the source of certain Web sites can be difficult, and is not always possible. After retracing the student's path and searching the screens for some indication or link to a "home page," we were able to locate the source of her information. We discovered the "authority" for this information on capital punishment was a 17-year-old with his own Web page.

This student was astute enough to know she did not have reliable information. However, many students blindly accept the information they find on the Internet and use it as part of a research paper or multimedia project.

Teaching Information Literacy Skills by Evaluating the Internet

To address this lack of understanding of the quality of Internet information, we developed a 3-day Internet Information Literacy unit, designed to improve students' criticalthinking skills in using the Internet.

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