For students to be able to use multiple resources, it is essential to help them acquire information literacy skills, to provide proper assignments, and for the instructor to serve as a coach as well as a teacher. Some simple actions can have a profound effect.
Partner with a Librarian: Librarians have become some of the most knowledgeable professionals in the field of information literacy, thanks to the remarkable transformation that academic libraries have undergone in response to the changing world of information. Libraries’ instructional services provide a variety of support—from assistance with the re-design of research assignments to the training of students in basic online search techniques. Collaborating with a librarian, especially one versed in your discipline, as you plan your courses is both practical and rewarding (5).
Consider Problem-Based Learning (PBL): PBL is an approach that introduces students to a problem or dilemma prior to studying the relevant material. PBL helps students become aware of the need for information, and it prompts them to clarify their own information needs. The first two PBL tasks students face are “What do I need to know in order to address the problem?” and “Where will I find the information?” With PBL, students take ownership of their own learning, and therefore explore the problem more deeply (6).
Create a Course Resource Bank: Finding useful resources is challenging for students. Why not let them pool their efforts? Allow students to share resources with each other, and contribute resources you know to be credible and relevant. Point students to professional journals and prominent scholars in your field, while inviting (or requiring) your students to find and share relevant websites, news articles, and primary sources. During class, ask students to share how they found their contributions, and outline your own approaches for seeking information. And use student-contributed resources in your teaching, to validate your students’ effort and insight (7).
Assign Annotated Bibliographies: To help students learn to evaluate sources, have them create annotated bibliographies before they write their research papers. Ask students to summarize each source they include in their bibliographies, as well as to assess the source’s credibility and potential use in their papers. Provide students with feedback on their bibliographies, particularly on their assessments of their sources. If time permits after students have written their papers, have them revise their bibliography to detail why and how they used each source—or why they chose not to use a given source (8).
Ask Students to Map the Big Picture: Once students have curated a set of useful resources on a given topic, there’s still the challenge of synthesizing the information provided by those resources. Students can get lost in the details of a topic and miss the “big picture” that would help them accomplish this kind of integrative learning. Ask students to create visual representations of their topics, in which relationships among ideas and examples are shown spatially. Depending on the topic, the construction of a concept map, debate map, or timeline can help students see the forest for the trees (9).