Digital literacy has long been a goal of research projects and critical thinking-based curriculum. But the era of COVID-19 and the shift to hybrid and distance learning models has placed a renewed emphasis on developing digital research best practices—both for students and for educators. Given the vast majority of research must now be performed in a digital setting, assessing the value of sources and validity of content provided to students is essential.
What to Look for in a Resource
Educators should look for digital resources that:
- Ensure the accuracy of content.
- Provide citations and source information about publishers, authors, and originality.
- Are factual and objective.
- Support the main learning goals.
- Engage students.
Resource Curation Best Practices
The internet is vast and filled with an overwhelming amount of misinformation, which is why many teachers will curate research resources for their students. Here are some best practices to follow when evaluating those resources for your students:
Look for Sites Where Sources are Clearly Cited
It’s essential that resources provided to students cite their sources or include some type of reference page or bibliography.
Ensure Author Information is Included
All sources should include authors, making it easier for students to evaluate the expertise and authority, or the writer. This is an excellent way to talk about information literacy and whether they should accept the information or argument. It’s vital for students to learn the difference between reputable and non reputable sources—this does not suggest that reputable sources don’t deserve scrutiny or critical evaluation, of course. Generally, it’s recommended that only reputable sources be included in the creation of digital resources.
Check for a Date Stamp
Unlike information that is published physically, digital sources are not required to have a datestamp. However, sources curated for students should have accurate data regarding a publication date so that students can more critically evaluate the information presented. This is especially true of current events and scientific material.
Should Be Linked to the Curriculum
Many digital resources have curriculum maps and can be adjusted to grade level. Resources that have these features help both educators and students review the material most closely associated with the topics they are learning in class.
Have a Clear Vetting Process
In order to encourage critical thinking, best practices for curating digital resources includes being transparent about any vetting processes in play—both in terms of the sources themselves and in terms of an instructor’s own evaluation criteria. This helps students in their development of critical thinking skills.
Foster Collaboration: Both with Other students and the Content
In a physical setting, a student might be able to ask a librarian or a teacher for assistance or clarification. In a digital setting, it’s important that students have the same ability to collaborate. The best digital sources may even provide the opportunity to interact with content authors, reinforcing important critical thinking concepts about epistemology and the formation of knowledge.
Encourage Active Learning
The best research sources will also encourage active learning, allowing students to guide their own development to a certain degree. This could mean that sources encourage students to make their own leaps in knowledge, synthesizing new ideas as they research.
One of the biggest drawbacks to distance learning models is the inequitable distribution of resources. That’s why it’s essential for curated digital resources to be inclusive along multiple categories, including racial, economic, and sexual identity. Students perform better when they can connect personally to the material. Students should feel welcomed, capable, and comfortable in all digital settings.
Helping Students Navigate the Digital Space
Whether your students are just learning to read or preparing for college, it’s essential that any research based projects within a digital space aim to help develop their information literacy and critical thinking skills. As more people rely on digital resources for their daily information, these skills are more essential than ever before. Digital resources, therefore, should prepare students to discern valid information from invalid, and proper curation using best practices can help accomplish just that.