Teaching Online Research

library card catalogFor “digital natives” it has become instinctive to look online immediately for answers to questions. Having access to a wide variety of classes, websites, videos, and information online can be a huge help for homeschooling high school.  Online research can also come with pitfalls. In this article we’ll explore ways to teach your teens to make the most of research in the digital age.

Drawbacks of Technology

While there are obviously huge benefits to having access to digital research, many parents and teachers see big disadvantages as well. In a recent study of high school AP teachers, 87% said technology is creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” As we’ve all experienced, the huge access to information online can be overwhelming. You go to Google a simple question and it is easy to get caught into following mouse trails here and there and you realize you’ve just wasted a lot of time.

Because this digital generation is used to being able to very quickly find the answers to most questions, they may be discouraged from just sitting with questions and allowing their curiosity to grow, developing new and more complex ways of wondering. This may lower students’ patience for more in-depth or original research.

Some students may simply accept the first results on Google rather than thinking critically about the source and reliability of the information. Not all sources of information online are strong or well researched and students need to be taught how to filter through the noise to find the most reliable information.

What You Can Do as a Homeschool Parent

Manage Distractions
The first step is to set clear expectations and limits for technology. Having no expectations or limits is setting kids up to fail. Before your kids settle into years of bad habits, work with your teen to establish reasonable limits for how, where, and when technology will be used in your homeschool and your family. Be aware there are many technological options to help students minimize distraction.

Evaluate the Quality of Sources
It is vital that students learn how to evaluate the quality of online sources and there are a number of good resources to help.

One starting place is to take a look at the resources from Georgetown University’s Library and Cornell University Library. Both sites provide helpful questions for students to consider as they evaluate on-line resources. Does your student love Wikipedia? These guidelines from Harvard’s Writing Program explain that while most of us enjoy Wikipedia as an informal source of research we should be wary of using it for academic research.

Write a Research Paper Including a Trip to the Library
It may seem old fashioned but every high school student needs to learn to learn to write a research paper. If they want to also produce a multi-media presentation or PowerPoint of the material that’s great, but the research paper is a step every student should learn. This research paper can be incorporated into a social science, English, or science class. If your student has not already done so, I encourage them to go through the complete process including a trip to the library. Even if your teens have always used the library for pleasure reading, they may be unfamiliar with using it for research tasks and may need help and support to figuring out that process. If you have a college or university library accessible to you, it would be good to include that as well. Student research should include the library databases and journals. College bound students need to develop skills evaluating the quality of sources and learning to use library resources such a databases, reference resources, and periodicals.

1 comment

  • It’s essential for students to get practice in evaluating web sources. I would encourage parents to do this with students–use one of the links that you’ve provided to a university library’s guidelines for evaluating sources, and practice with several Google searches. It can be surprisingly difficult for students to identify problematic sources on their own.

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