InformationGoogle and Wikipedia: you probably know them as enormously popular, global websites with massive amounts of traffic. You probably also know that among their audience are students, many of whom use these sites for academic research.

What’s so wrong with that?

While these sites have their purpose, for one thing, your use of them could be restricted on college-level assignments. At the very least, as your assignments get more sophisticated, you’re likely to find yourself increasingly frustrated with the kinds of results such sites give you. Basically, if you don’t understand the limitations and pitfalls of using Google and Wikipedia for your research papers, you need to work on sharpening your information literacy skills.

First, what IS information literacy? According to Professor Sharon A. Weiner of Purdue University, it is

“the ability to find, use, and communicate information effectively and ethically . . . It is the umbrella term for emerging literacies such as technology literacy, media literacy, and health literacy”
(“Information Literacy: A Neglected Core Competency,” Educause Quarterly, 2010).

Unfortunately, while information literacy is identified as a critical skill for every individual, studies have found students of all levels have weak information literacy skills.

How can you, the individual, work on improving YOUR information literacy skills? While these skills are best developed over time and in a variety of educational environments, you can find excellent tutorials online published by university libraries. Search “information literacy tutorials,” or see below for a few examples:
Information Literacy Portal from the University of Idaho.
Information Literacy Tutorial from St. John’s University.
NetTrail: a series of Information Literacy Tutorials from the University of California Santa Cruz.

Read more about Information Literacy Awareness Month at the National Forum on Information Literacy website:
Scroll down to read the Presidential Proclamation and rationale for an “information literate citizenry.”

Additional reading:
Learn about more types of information literacy here:

Read an excellent, concise discussion intended for educators, but useful to anyone:
“Information Literacy: A Neglected Core Competency,” Sharon A. Weiner, Educause Quarterly, 2010.

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