Tools to Support Students with Their Online Research Assignments

This semester, students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Lizeth Rodriguez

With the advent of technology, digital literacies have facilitated a wider range of possibilities for research papers done by students. With great power, such as the one generated by search engines, comes great responsibility for the students to filter accurate information. When a student is given a topic on a assignment and they decide to search for related material, as soon as they type any keyword in the search engines they may get millions of related websites. For example, I searched for the water cycle on Google, and this generated about 146,000,000 results in 0.22 seconds according to their statistics feedback. Now out of all of these websites that google provided for me, some maybe accurate, but, surprisingly, the first website on the list is from Wikipedia. Although some information on Wikipedia may be correct, for the most part it is not reliable since any one can modify the information independent of their expertise. Teachers can guide the students by providing some guidelines when they search information online.

First, we will look into what is a typical research sequence for many students (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

Searching in Wikipedia or Google

  • Browsing quickly through websites for ideas and quotes
  • Cutting and pasting information from the Web into one’s own writing without providing proper attribution for it
  • Viewing information as free, accurate, and trustworthy
  • Treating online information as equal to print information

Clines and Cobb suggest the following strategies for students when they research online (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

  • Checking the purpose of the Web site (for example, the extensions .edu, .org, .gov, .com can often indicate the orientation or purpose of the site)
  • Locating and considering the author’s credentials to establish credibility
  • Looking for recent updates to establish currency or relevancy
  • Examining the visual elements of the site such as links to establish relationships with other sources of information

One approach to website evaluation that has been developed by researchers at Michigan State University is the WWWDOT framework. This framework asks the students to consider a set of six dimensions (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

  1. Who wrote this, and what credentials do they have?
  2. Why is it written?
  3. When was it written and updated?
  4. Does this help meet my needs?
  5. Organization of website?
  6. To do list for the future.

The teachers can direct the students by providing guidelines when they are searching material online utilizing the above strategies and others they can formulate. For example they can ask them to make sure that the material is dated from five years to present year, a minimum of three professional websites. Teachers can also ask the students to research in their school’s library search engine, and to reference all their material. With practice and dedication, the students will understand the importance of legitimate and accurate research.

Reference: Ippolito, J., Lawrence, J. F. & Zaller, C. (2013). Adolescent literacy in the era of the common core.(pp. 1-285). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Educational Press.

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