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Teaching Students Information Literacy
Erin McCabe
IT 574XA/ZA Internet Uses in Education
Emporia State University

The purpose of this paper is instructing teachers on how they can teach their students to locate accurate information on the Internet. It talks about importance of information literacy instruction and the necessity for having information literacy skills. This paper has information on information literacy, search strategies, search engines, and website evaluation. This paper goes through the six steps found in most information literacy models. Each step is defined and the process of the step is explained. It also identifies the steps that should be followed when developing search strategies and names the areas of a website that need to be looked at during website evaluation. I hope that the information in this paper is useful to all teachers who are interested in helping their students locate information on the Internet and want their students to have good research skills. This paper is supported by information from the American Library Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the U.S. Department of Education as well as other online sources.

"Information literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, and use information from a variety of sources" (Doyle, 1992) Information literacy is not a set of individual tasks or skills, but rather a way of thinking. (Kuhlthau, 1993) To be information literate students need to learn how to find and use information as well as filter out information they don't need. (Lowe, 2001) The goal of information literacy instruction is to develop successful information users. (Lowe, 2001) "The following are three information literacy standards set by the American Association of School Librarians: Standard 1. The student who is information literate can access information efficiently and effectively; Standard 2. The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently; Standard 3. The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively." (ALA, 1998) To make sure information literacy instruction is successful it should be done across the curriculum. (Lowe, 2001) Students need to be taught information literacy skills in every subject not just during library. (Lowe, 2001) The best way to teach information literacy is to have teachers and librarians collaborate. Information problem solving is an essential component of information literacy. (Lowe, 2001) There are several different models of information literacy and information problem solving. (Lowe, 2001) Most of the models include six steps: defining, locating, assessing, selecting, organizing, and presenting information. (Lowe, 2001)
Defining the Task
The first step defining means students have to define the task they need to complete. (Eisenberg, 2001) They need to define the information problem that they need to solve and identify the information that they will need to solve the problem. (Eisenberg, 2001)
Once students have defined the problem and identified the information that they need to solve the problem, they have to locate the information.
Locating Information
To locate information students have to know how to find the information. This is where search strategies come in. Students need to learn information strategies so they can locate accurate sources of information. A simplified, generic search strategy might consist of the following steps:
1. Formulate the research question and its scope
2. Identify the important concepts within the question
3. Identify search terms to describe those concepts
4. Consider synonyms and variations of those terms
5. Prepare your search logic (Tyner and Slany,2001)
Search strategies should be applied to a search of any electronic information tool, including library catalogues and CD-ROM databases. (Tyner and Slany, 2001) One search strategy skill students need to learn when learning search strategies is to how to identify keywords. Students need to learn how to identify key words to be accomplished searchers of the Internet. (Elliott, 2000) One reason students have a difficulty finding relevant material on the Internet is that they have poor key word skills. (Elliott, 2000) Teachers should have the students practice identifying keywords before having them do research. (Elliott, 2000) When they assign students a research project they should have them turn in a list of key search words. (Elliott, 2000) Once students have learned to identify keywords, students need to learn search logic. (Elliott, 2000) "Search logic refers to the way in which you, and the search engine you are using, combine your search terms." (Tyner and Slany, 2001) A search could be interpreted as a search for any of the terms put in, all the terms put in, or the entire phrase depending on the logic applied. (Tyner and Slany, 2001) Boolean logic is a search logic that is used in many databases. "Boolean logic is the term used to describe certain logical operations that are used to combine search terms in many databases." (Tyner and Slany, 2001) "Boolean operators are represented by the words AND, OR and NOT." (Tyner and Slany, 2001) Teachers can create activities that recreate and use Boolean logic to help them learn the system. (Elliott, 2000) Once students have learned Boolean logic, they can be directed to appropriate search areas. (Elliott, 2000) Teachers should direct students to search areas because certain search engines can have advertising that is not appropriate for children. (Elliott, 2000) One place that teachers can send students to find accurate sources of information is databases of research information. (Elliott, 2000) These databases provide access to millions of articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers. (Elliott, 2000) SIRS and Gale Literary Series ( are examples of these databases. (Elliott, 2000) Teachers can also create pathfinders that students can use to locate accurate sources of information. (Elliott, 2000) "A pathfinder is a group of Websites that the teacher has pre-selected and pre-evaluated and feels would be both useful and appropriate for student research." (Elliott, 2000) There are also general search engines that do not use inappropriate advertising. Search engines allow the user to enter keywords that are run against a database. (Tyner and Slany, 2001) "Based on a combination of criteria (established by the user and/or the search engine), search engines retrieve WWW documents from their databases that match the keywords entered by the searcher." (Tyner and Slany, 2001) All search engines are intended to perform the same task but each does it in a different way which leads to different results. (Tyner and Slany, 2001) "Factors that influence results include the size of the database, the frequency of updating, and the search capabilities."(Tyner and Slany, 2001)
"Search engines also differ in their search speed, the design of the search interface, the way in which they display results, and the amount of help they offer." (Tyner and Slany, 2001) Search engines are best used to find a piece of information like a document, picture, or computer program rather than a general subject. (Tyner and Slany, 2001) Alta Vista, Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Yahoo, and Google are all general search engines that do not use inappropriate advertising. (Elliott, 2000) There are also search engines that are specifically designed for children that can be used in classrooms. (Elliott, 2000) Even though they are designed for children they are still powerful search engines and contain information for students of all ages. (Elliott, 2000) AskJeevesforKids, Yahooligans, and KidsClick are all search engines designed for children. (Elliott, 2000) Besides directing students to general search engines that do not use inappropriate advertising and search engines designed for children teachers can direct students to specialized search engines. (Elliott, 2000) These engines are librarian built and have fewer sites than general search engines but the sites included on these engines have been pre-evaluated. (Elliott, 2000) Having students use a specialized search engine is almost like having them use a path finder. (Elliott, 2000) Two examples of specialized search engines are Infomine ( and Librarians Index ( (Elliott, 2000) Teaching students search skills and directing them to search engines will help them find material faster, more efficiently, and more safely however it will not keep students completely safe from inaccurate and inappropriate information. (Elliott, 2000) Students will still have to learn to evaluate the material that they find on the Internet. (Elliott, 2000)
Students wanting or needing to use the Internet to find sources of information need to be taught information evaluation. (Elliott, 2000)
Teachers can help students to evaluate information they find on the Internet by creating an evaluation form to fill out. (Elliott, 2000) The evaluation form should ask students to analyze information about authorship, content, navigability, point of view, purpose, and related links. (Elliott, 2000) When looking at authorship students should first determine who the author or producer is. (Grassian, 2000) Students should then look at the expertise of the individual or group that produced the site. (Grassian, 2000) They should then look at when the item was produced. (Grassian, 2000) When looking at content students should look at how complete and accurate the information provided is. (Grassian, 2000) Students should also look at the relative value of the web site in comparison to the other sources of information available on this topic. (Grassian, 2000) When looking at navigability students should make sure that both the inner and outer links work. (Grassian, 2000) When looking at point of view students should determine if there is any bias to the item. (Grassian, 2000) When looking at purpose students need to determine the purpose of the web page and what it contains. (Grassian, 2000) When students are evaluating the related links they should identify the criteria for link selection if there is any. (Grassian, 2000) They should also determine if the links are relevant and appropriate for the site. (Grassian, 2000) Students should also look to see if the links provide information that is easily available from other sources. (Grassian, 2000) Once students have evaluated the information they have located, they need to determine if they want to use that information. (Eisenberg, 2001)
Selecting the information need to complete the task is the fourth step in information problem solving. (Eisenberg, 2001) Students choose the information they need to solve the information problem. (Eisenberg, 2001) Once students have selected the information they need to solve the information problem from various sources, they can begin to organize information.
The organization of the information depends on the task the student has been asked to complete. If a student is writing a research paper, he or she would organize the information according to the outline they had set up. After the students have organized their information, it is time for them to present it. (Eisenberg, 2001)
The presentation of information again depends on the task the student has been asked to complete. The finished product will depend on what type of presentation the student was asked to make. I have now explained all six steps of most information literacy models. These six steps do not need to be done in the order I have explained them, they can be organized to meet the needs of the lesson or the students. It is important however that students learn some kind of information literacy process. In the next section I will explain how information literacy is necessary for the real world.
The Necessity of Information Literacy
One reason information literacy skills are necessary for the real world is the economy. The economy has changed from one based on labor and capital to an economy based on information. (Plotnick, 1999) This change has requires information literate workers who know how to interpret information. (Plotnick, 1999) Educational reform is also making information literacy skills necessary. (Plotnick, 1999) Educational reform makes information literacy skills a necessity as students are seeking to construct their own knowledge and create their own understandings. (Plotnick, 1999) Information literacy is also becoming a requirement in higher education. (Plotnick, 1999) The growing technology has also made information literacy a necessity. (Plotnick, 1999) All sorts of information can be found on the World Wide Web and students have to be able to separate the treasure from the trash.
If the Internet is going to be used in education students need to be information literate. They have to be able to locate material on the World Wide Web and correctly use the material they find. They also need to be able to evaluate the material they find on the World Wide Web. Not everything on the World Wide Web is good and accurate information. The World Wide Web has information that is pornographic, produced by hate groups or that is simply inaccurate. Teachers need to help their students avoid material that harmful to them and help them sort fact from fiction. Information literacy skills will not only help them when they use the Internet but will be useful to them through out their life.


1. Doyle, C.S. (1992). "Outcome Measures for Information Literacy within the National Educational Goals of 1990. Final Report to National Forum on Information Literacy." Flagstaff, AZ: National Forum on Information Literacy.

2. Eisenberg, Mike. (2001). "A Big6 Skills Overview." Big6 Associates.

3. Elliott, Catherine B. (2000). "Helping Students Weave Their Way through the World Wide Web." English Journal: National Council of Teachers of English.

4. Excerpted from Chapter 2, "Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning," of Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Copyright © 1998 American Library Association and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. ISBN 0-8389-3470-6.

5. Grassian, Esther. (2000). "Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources." University of California-Los Angeles.

6. Kuhlthau, C.C. (1993). "Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services." Greenwich, CT: Ablex.

7. Lowe, Carrie. (2001). "Research Foundations of the Big6 Skills." Big6 Associates.

8. Plotnick, Eric. (1999). "Information Literacy." ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. Syracuse, NY.

9. Tyner, Ross; Slany, Walter. (2001). "Sink or Swim: Internet Search Tools and Techniques." University of Calgary.