Not long ago, school libraries were “the place” to go to find resources for research papers and coursework. Times have changed and library shelves are beginning to collect dust as students overwhelmingly favor search engines and electronic resources over the Dewey Decimal System. A 2010 study of undergraduate students found that students look to library shelves for research only after they have exhausted other options such Google® and Wikipedia™.An affinity for doing a quick Google search over making a trip to the library is appealing to students of all ages, making “information literacy” central to 21st century learning. In order to navigate the maze of information, both online and in print, students must have the ability to find information, evaluate its creditability and currency, and apply the information learned.

A great example of a school embracing 21st century research is Cushing Academy, a private secondary school in Massachusetts. Cushing Academy’s Fisher-Watkins Library recently underwent a digital transformation; now the library is the hub of learning on campus. According to their website, the Cushing library has nearly 200 e-ink eReaders, giving students access to hundreds of thousands of electronic books. Students can also view thousands of electronic books and research databases on their laptops.

We know going digital isn’t feasible for every school, but we did brainstorm some simple ways you can help your students become more information literate to continue to prepare them for 21st century learning:

  • Plan a topic development activity
    84% of undergraduate students surveyed said their biggest obstacle in research is just getting started. Help your students take the first step. For younger grades, consider preparing a list of topics students can choose from. For older students, ask them to brainstorm topics and create a mind map to explore them further.
  • Create research challenge exercises
    Keep students on their toes by creating exercises that challenge their research abilities. Begin by developing lists of questions and then divide your students into groups for a friendly competition. The first group to complete all of the answers wins! Reward the winning team with handy travel mugs, Classic Yo-Yo’s or fun crayons.
  • Establish guidelines for credibility
    77% of undergraduate students said they look at the currency of website content to determine creditability, nearly as many (71%) also consider site design. Take the guesswork out of determining site credibility by creating a list of reputable online resources. In addition, make sure students have the tools they need to determine the credibility of resources that don’t make your list. To find source-related lesson plans, check out FactCheckED.org.
  • Transform your library
    When students do turn to library shelves for information, make sure they know where to look. Think about giving your class a refresher course on the Dewey Decimal System. Keep Post-it® note cubes next to library computers for students to jot down book titles and catalogue numbers and encourage students to use Post-it® flags in books instead of folding corners or writing in margins.For high schools and universities, make sure your library has a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. Add a mini coffee bar so students don’t need to leave the library to grab a much needed pick-me-up. Keep it stocked with Java Jackets bearing your school’s logo. Use Banner Displays to designate areas in the library that encourage conversation and collaboration.
  • Begin building your electronic library
    In the August 2010 edition of Educational News we talked about the rise in popularity of e-books. Making an electronic resource library available on e-readers or laptops can provide students with reliable resources anytime, day or night. Build awareness of the electronic resource library by handing out imprinted ear buds —perfect for listening to online audio resources.

Research skills are not only beneficial in the classroom, but provide the tools students will use throughout their lives to make educated, informed decisions.

Head, PH.D., Alison J., and Michael B. Eisenberg. “Project Information Literacy Progress Report: “Truth Be Told”.” Project Information Literacy: A Large-scale Study about Early Adults and Their Research Habits. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION, 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Jan. 2011.

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