The nutrition and dietetics profession is deeply rooted in evidence-based research and practice. Dietetics students become well-versed early in their academic careers in utilizing peer-reviewed journal articles, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Evidence Analysis Library, Cochrane databases, and other sources encouraged by faculty that provide evidence-based research and best practices. And although students are familiar with a variety of credible professional information sources, they may not have a solid grasp on the knowledge and skills required to search, locate, organize, evaluate, and synthesize online research.
Therefore, a guiding question for students in understanding the goal of online research is as follows: What outcomes may be derived from successful implementation of online research skills?
My inquiry aligns with ISTE Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor: “Curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions” (ISTE).
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, when asked about the “impact of today’s digital environment on their students research habits and skills” (Purcell, et. al, 2012), some of the issues raised include the following:
- A decline in critical thinking skills
- Ability to assess online information for quality
- Over-reliance on search engines
A significant number of teachers surveyed emphasized the importance of teaching students online research skills, including how to evaluate sources of information, how to locate information without depending on search engines, and also how to utilize search engines for best results (Purcell et. al, 2012).
Further, in an interview discussing how research skills are taught to college students, Fister provides excellent reasoning for why students may not demonstrate the abilities they possess in online research skills and knowledge. One point of discussion focuses on the course curriculum and assignment expectations. Students may not be as motivated to complete high-quality research for assignments that essentially don’t provide much room for “voice and choice.” This could include going through the motions to check off rubric boxes, such as page number and reference requirements (Fister, 2012). As college students are instructed on building knowledge and skills in online research practices, it makes a lot of sense that instructors also evaluate their research paper assignment expectations, and to consider offering voice and choice in what students research and how they present their findings.
Further, in my role as a university professor, I often explore students’ prior knowledge, skills, and experiences attained and how they affect subsequent learning. In thinking about prior knowledge and skills acquired for effective online research practices, a logical retrospective perspective is an understanding of the competencies aligned with high school curricula. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, launched in 2009, contains overarching goals of preparing students for college and careers (http://www.corestandards.org/). The majority of U.S. states have implemented Common Core Standards into their instruction and assessment practices, but they may differ from state to state. Upon reviewing Washington State Common Core Standards, I discovered that Washington aligns their educational technology standards with ISTE standards (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction). Examples of evidence demonstrating that Washington State high school students have met the ISTE standard for knowledge constructor are as follows:
- “Students can modify search strategies to demonstrate resiliency in the research process.”
- “Create a resource that outlines where and how students can access valid and reliable health information, products, and services.”
- “Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).”
It appears that Washington has a strong set of standards in place related to online research skills. However, since Common Core Standards are not standardized across all 50 states, it seems prudent to instruct all dietetics majors on basic knowledge and skills necessary for successful online research practices.
In an article titled, “10 Strategic Steps for Teaching for Teaching Online Research Skills to Your Learners, the author stresses the importance of not assuming that because our students are “digital natives” and are fluent in many aspects of technology use, that they understand how to use the Internet properly for research purposes. Below are highlights of the article, which include basic knowledge and skills as well as practical tips that will benefit students as they use the Internet for research purposes (wabisabilearning.com):
- Students need to understand the various types of domains present on the Internet and which (and whether) search domains should be used for research (e.g. org, .edu, gov).
- Scholarly search engines: Introduce students to a variety of scholarly search engines and encourage them to access them.
- Encyclopedia use: Encourage students to review information found in scholarly online encyclopedias, but use caution when reviewing content on Wikipedia since contributions may be written by non-scholars.
- Students need to be taught online research skills. Students should realize that effective online research takes time, and they shouldn’t strive to locate information quickly by automatically using the first few search results.
- Examples of how to refine online research inquiries include the following:
- Searches should be specific rather than generalized or vague to increase likelihood of locating information that is beneficial.
- Searches linking two subjects can be done so by including a plus (+) sign in between concepts, such as vitamin C+ sources.
- Using an asterisk (*) as part of a search question can yield the answer. An example is: “The war of 1812 began because * .”
- Time frame: Narrowing down search results to a specific time frame can be done in Google by clicking on tools then either finding a specific date or range of dates from which to receive search results.
- Higher level thinking skills, such as critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation are key to effectively determining validity and reliability of search results.
In conclusion, although college students these days are considered digital natives and are familiar and comfortable with a wide variety of digital technologies, students need to develop digital literacy in online inquiry and research to be successful in their academic pursuits and in their careers. Allowing students voice and choice in what they choose to research and how they present their findings will likely increase intrinsic motivation and diligence throughout the online research process.
Author unknown. 10 strategic steps for teaching online research to your learners. Wabisabi Learning. https://wabisabilearning.com/blogs/technology-integration/10-steps-teaching-online-research-skills
Common Core State Standards Initiative. http://www.corestandards.org/
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 2018 Educational technology standards. https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/resources-subject-area/edtech-k%E2%80%9312-learning-standards/2018-educational-technology-standards
Purcell, K, et al. How teens do research in the digital world. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2012/11/01/how-teens-do-research-in-the-digital-world/
Fister, B. Playing for Keeps: Rethinking how research is taught to today’s college students. Project Information Literacy. https://projectinfolit.org/smart-talk-interviews/playing-for-keeps-rethinking-how-research-is-taught-to-todays-college-students/