Information TeAchnology:
Using the Internet for Student Research
by Janet Murray
presented at
International Conference on Advances in Infrastructure to Support
Electronic Business, Science, and Education on the Internet
L'Aquila, Italy
August, 2000

Abstract-- In the rush to adopt Internet technologies, many schools have underestimated the need for human infrastructure. Experienced educators know that we must add an "A" to "tech"; technology in isolation ignores the "A" in "teAch."

To conduct research on the Internet, it is imperative that students and teachers examine information sources with a critical eye, evaluating their authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency and relevance. Students must learn to navigate the Internet skillfully by using subject directories and search engines. Teachers must also consider the design of their research assignments so that they promote original thinking through synthesizing a variety of materials and avoid Internet-fostered plagiarism.

Index Terms—information literacy, information retrieval, information skills, Internet, secondary school curriculum, World Wide Web

I. Introduction

In the rush to adopt new technologies in the schools, schools and districts have too often ignored the simple fact that machines do not change teaching and learning. People do. Experienced educators know that we must add an "A" to "tech"; technology in isolation ignores the "A" in "teAch." [10]

II. Problem Statement

The CEO Forum, a national group of U.S. business leaders, reported that "although there are more than 6 million computers in the nation’s schools, most teachers lack the training to use them effectively. Why? Because . . . schools are spending less than $6 per student on the computer training of teachers, contrasted with more than $88 per student on computers, computer programs and network connections." [3] In the American idiom, this is known as "putting the cart before the horse."

Henry Jay Becker’s national survey, "Teaching, Learning and Computing: 1998," supports the CEO Forum’s conclusions. "We found that 90% of all U.S. schools have some kind of access to the Internet. What is so remarkable about this statistic is that most schools, which historically change so slowly, have made this connection within just 5 years." [1] However, Becker’s study also reveals the need for professional development appropriate to the integration of technology in the classroom.

In 1997, the U.S. President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) observed that, "The benefit to students increasingly will depend on the skill with which some three million teachers are able to use these new tools," and recommended "doubling the amount of the typical education technology budget devoted to teacher development from 15 percent to at least 30 percent." [12] Margaret Honey concurs: "Teachers cannot be expected to learn how to use educational technology in their teaching after a one-time workshop. Teachers need in-depth, sustained assistance not only in the use of the technology but in their efforts to integrate technology into the curriculum." [2]

Some entrepreneurs have tried to meet the challenge of inadequate professional development by creating CD-ROM resources and structured sequential courses. Their products may be glitzy and glamorous, and administrators may be tempted to buy them as an "easy" solution. However, any technology offering which ignores the disparity among individuals and the need for ongoing, personal support is likely to be as unsuccessful as the one-time workshop.

Educators need a framework to organize their thinking about integrating technology in the curriculum. Research is traditionally part of the pre-university curriculum. Perhaps we can use the research process to introduce information literacy and technology skills.

III. Information Literacy

Traditionally, schools taught the "three R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic." "Literacy" was captured in international census data by estimating the percentage of people who could read and write.

As computers became essential in the workplace and dribbled into schools, "computer literacy" entered the curriculum, usually in the form of an introduction to the new vocabulary of bits and bytes, hardware and software. Computer courses focused on programming languages. "Keyboarding" replaced typing.

A. Definition
The term "information literacy" first appeared in the mid-1970s as awareness grew that information was becoming an overwhelming and unmanageable deluge. In the 1980s, people realized that computers might be useful tools for organizing and retrieving information. In 1989, the American Library Association codified a definition which provided the basis for subsequent discussion: "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." ["Final Report of the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy" (1989) quoted in 13, p. 22] In other words, "literacy" implies more than vocabulary and awareness; it requires critical thinking.

B. Economic Motivators
Economic forecasters and business analysts predict that 21st century jobs will require information-processing skills. They expect a fundamental shift from production to information management, with a much higher percentage of the workforce employed in service industries. The 1990 report of the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identifies information and technology as two of the five competencies essential for employment. [13]

Thus, this is not solely an education issue; it is an economic issue. Just as the realities of the workplace dictated the introduction of computers into schools, the needs of the future work force dictate the importance of acquiring information problem-solving skills.

And this is not an exclusively American challenge; it is an international challenge. The June 1999, G8 Economic Summit concluded: "The challenge every country faces is how to become a learning society and to ensure that its citizens are equipped with the knowledge, skills and qualifications they will need in the next century. Economies and societies are increasingly knowledge-based. Education and skills are indispensable to achieving economic success, civic responsibility and social cohesion." [7]

C. Standards
The American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) have made significant efforts to guide policy-making and standards development. The new edition of Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, released in July 1998, is a result of the collaboration between AASL and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). Information Power presents "Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning" which have been incorporated in "Indicators of Schools of Quality" by the National Study of School Evaluation. (Appendix A) This powerful collection of nine standards and 29 indicators of proficiency in information literacy, independent learning and socially responsible use of electronic information can provide the foundation for organizing interdisciplinary research activities that promote critical thinking and the acquisition of the information-processing skills necessary for future success. [4]

Information Power supplies parallels between information literacy standards and evolving national standards in fourteen content areas compiled by the Midcontinent Research and Evaluation Laboratory. [4] Another significant effort to guide the infusion of technology in instruction resulted in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students: Connecting Curriculum and Technology. [5] The NETS Project, an initiative of the International Society for Technology in Education, garnered the support of virtually every major American educational association. The national educational technology standards are grouped into six categories, four of which emphasize technology as a tool to facilitate productivity, communication, research, and problem-solving and decision-making. (Appendix B)

D. Implications for Educators
What are the implications for educators? Traditional "research papers" (cutting and pasting from an encyclopedia) and traditional "library skills" (using the card catalog to locate materials) are obviously inadequate to the task of empowering an information literate citizenry.

In the Information Age, students must be able to purposefully access information from a variety of sources, analyze and evaluate the information, and then integrate it to construct a personal knowledge base from which to make intelligent decisions. To foster these capabilities, educators must re-examine their assignments and teaching strategies in light of constructivist learning theory. We must recognize and accept the fact that knowledge is changing so fast that no traditional curriculum can supply students with fact-based learning sufficient to the challenges they will face. Instead, we must teach them the skills to continue learning independently long after they are out of school.

IV. Evaluating Web Resources

Evaluating sources of information is particularly critical in the digital age, when literally anyone can be a publisher on the Internet. It is imperative that students and teachers examine information sources with a critical eye. The standards that librarians have traditionally applied to print and audiovisual materials are also valid in an electronic setting.

A. Authority
Student researchers should consider the authority of the site, identifying the author and his qualifications as well as the organization that sponsors the site. Domains identified as .com (commercial) may be tailoring the information they provide to sell a product. While one might be tempted to assume that .edu (education) domains contain authoritative information, examining Professor Arthur Butz’ web page hosted by Northwestern University ( reveals a view of the Holocaust that few historians would support.

B. Accuracy and Objectivity
Students should assess the accuracy and objectivity of the information provided by distinguishing among facts, point of view, and opinion. One can find diametrically opposed points of view from authoritative sources on scientific issues such as the use of animals in research or the seriousness of environmental problems. Students need to be aware of the effects opinion, misleading information, and bias can introduce into their understanding of a problem.

C. Currency and Relevance
Students should consider the currency of information by checking revision dates. They should also evaluate the relevance of the information; it is easy to lose track of one’s original research question when confronted with an overwhelming profusion of resources.

Kathy Schrock’s presentation at the National Educational Computing Conference (1999), the "ABC’s of Web Site Evaluation," neatly summarizes the factors to be considered. (

V. Searching for Information

Exploring the Internet can be compared to "browsing" the library stacks. Patrons often select a book based on a colorful cover or enticing publisher’s blurb only to discover that the book is not what they expected. Internet novices frequently throw up their hands in disgust or despair when their first attempts to locate information result in an overwhelming array of sources that are only minimally relevant to their inquiry. [11]

A. Subject Directories
I encourage new users to start with a subject directory of evaluated resources that organizes information hierarchically. Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators ( is particularly useful to educators.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to the Internet ( provides not only its own content but recommended web sites and current magazine articles relevant to a student’s query. BUBL Link Catalogue of Internet Resources ( has a European focus and is organized into more traditional academic categories than popular subject directories designed for the general public. One can also browse by Dewey Decimal classification, resource type, or an alphabetical index. The Librarians' Index to the Internet ( is a searchable, annotated subject directory of more than 6,000 Internet resources selected and evaluated by librarians for their usefulness to users of public libraries. It's meant to be used by both librarians and non-librarians as a reliable and efficient guide to described and evaluated Internet resources.

B. Search Engines
As teachers and students discover the wealth of educationally useful resources available on the World Wide Web, they begin to imagine how they might use them in student research. To conduct research on the Internet, they must learn to navigate it skillfully by using search engines. Skillful navigation requires an awareness of the different results likely to be obtained from different search engines. I often use a simple quantitative comparison: how many results do you obtain from the same query entered in different search engines? The variation is obviously significant. This realization leads one to investigate how different search engines structure their queries and compile their results. [11]

Ask Jeeves ( is useful to students because it allows them to search using natural language queries. Northern Light ( organizes the results of a query into meaningful categories. Debbie Abilock recommends search engines based on the type of information a student needs. For example, "I have general keyword(s) and need help refining my search strategy" or "I need quality, evaluated links from a subject expert." (

Of course, these recommendations change frequently, but web articles evaluating search engines appear almost as frequently. Like ocean currents or desert dunes, the landscape of the World Wide Web is constantly shifting. We must teach searching skills that are adaptable to evolving tools rather than the specific characteristics of particular search engines.

Selecting resources appropriate to the task is also an essential element of effective information gathering. Library media specialists will recognize that print resources are still valuable, but they may have trouble convincing their students! Students and teachers need to understand the limitations of the Internet as an information resource: while it is ideally suited for explorations of subjects that change rapidly (e.g. science and current events), it is less comprehensive in its coverage of historical and literary topics. [11]

VI. Adapting the Research Process

How can an awareness of information literacy standards improve our design of instructional activities to foster critical thinking? First, we must recognize that "information literacy" is not a distinct area of study. It needs to be integrated into all content areas as a natural component of the curriculum, whether the subject is English, Social Studies, science, health, art, mathematics, or computer science. How will teachers learn to incorporate and utilize these standards? By working with their librarians to develop units of study that require students to go beyond locating and gathering information to analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing it to create a product which reflects their learning process as well as the conclusions they have reached.

The availability and variety of Internet resources gives new meaning to the expression "a library without walls." Using World Wide Web sites for student research can be a rewarding experience, but it requires thoughtful design and careful consideration of context.

A. Research Process
A number of authors have attempted to delineate the research process by creating broadly applicable models that describe a sequence of activities. Whether they list six steps or ten, research models generally include the following items:

  1. Formulate a question
  2. Access/ seek information
  3. Select information
  4. Evaluate information
  5. Synthesize information
  6. Communicate/ repackage/ apply information
  7. Reflect/ Evaluate/ Formulate [8]
When teachers send students to the library to "get some information" about a topic, they are addressing only one step of what should be a more thoughtfully developed and guided process. The first three national information literacy standards, with their correlated indicators, reflect a synthesis of the research models that emphasizes the importance of information expertise in everyday life. If the goal of schools is to create independent lifelong learners, they must integrate information literacy skills throughout the curriculum. Traditional research papers do not accomplish this goal.

Furthermore, although they are useful to organize teachers’ and students’ thinking about research, the biggest failing of research models is that they describe a recursive process in linear terms. I tell students that "re-search" literally means "to search and search again."

C.C. Kulthau’s research contributes another dimension to understanding the research process. She asked high school students how they felt while engaged in research, as well as observed what actions they took to solve their information needs. She discovered that students experience a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty at the beginning of a research project. They are optimistic when they select a topic, but then become confused and frustrated when they begin to explore information available about the topic. As they re-examine and clarify their formulation of the topic, they become more focused and more confident in their research. "Kulthau’s research into the information seeking behavior of students points directly to her philosophy about information literacy – that information literacy is not a discrete set of skills, but rather a way of learning." [13, p. 72] Helping students – both youngsters and adults – recognize that uncertainty is a normal part of the research process may alleviate their anxiety and allow them to view research as an information problem solving challenge.

We can advance information literacy by supplying teachers with research organizers that promote critical thinking (like the Big6 Skills, and encouraging them to develop inquiry-based projects (like WebQuests, "Applying Big6 Skills and Information Literacy Standards to Internet Research" ( correlates the research and information problem-solving design known as the Big6 Skills with specific elements of information literacy standards and provides activities to clarify their application to Internet research. [9]

B. Designing Research Assignments
When we consider using Internet resources to supplement student research, we must also consider the design of our research assignment so that it promotes original thinking through synthesizing a variety of materials. To use information accurately and creatively, the student must be able to organize it, integrate it into his own knowledge, apply it to critical thinking and problem solving, and communicate the results of his analysis. In order to facilitate the acquisition of these skills, we must create assignments that challenge students to go beyond the simple gathering and regurgitation of facts. Theorists who defined inquiry-based learning (project-based learning, resource-based learning) and teachers who have used it successfully recognize the impact this strategy can have on understanding subject matter. "When information and library skills are taught in the context of information problem-solving, and within subject areas, a positive effect on the learning process and on students’ attitudes is created." [13, p. 79]

Teaching information literacy skills in a way that students will be able to assimilate them into lifelong information problem-solving strategies requires that teachers re-evaluate their traditional research project assignments. Appropriate activities challenge students to engage in critical thinking, work collaboratively in groups, apply the results of their information gathering to real world problems, and present their results in a variety of formats. Content learning is more likely to be remembered when students establish connections with their prior knowledge. Clearly stated expectations and authentic assessment tend to improve the quality of the final product. [6]

Designing motivational research projects that incorporate constructivist principles, enable the acquisition of information literacy skills, and are creative enough in their expectations of original thinking to make Internet-fostered plagiarism impossible is a challenge. We must connect research to students’ interests and prior knowledge, give them meaningful choices, and create inquiry-based projects whose outcome is not predetermined. It simply requires looking at the old curriculum in new ways.

If we acknowledge student anxiety and discomfort at the beginning of a research project, we can also recognize that teachers feel anxious and uncomfortable in a learning environment that fosters active learners producing unpredictable results. Strategies to incorporate technology and information literacy in the classroom should be part of our professional development efforts.

VII. Conclusion

Technology is more than machinery; it can be a tool to enable informed decision-making. Its uses are not intuitive; teaching is an essential part of the equation. Using the term "teAchnology" helps us remember that essential fact.

Appendix A

Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning

The student who is information literate

  1. Accesses information efficiently and effectively
  2. Evaluates information critically and competently
  3. Uses information accurately and creatively
The student who is an independent learner is information literate and
  1. Pursues information related to personal interests
  2. Appreciates literature and other creative forms of expression
  3. Strives for excellence in information seeking and knowledge generation
The student who contributes positively to the learning community and to society is information literate and
  1. Recognizes the importance of information to a democratic society
  2. Practices ethical behavior in regard to information and information technology
  3. Participates effectively in groups to pursue and generate information [4, pp. 8-9]
Appendix B

National Educational Technology Standards for Students

Basic operations and concepts

  1. Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.
  2. Students are proficient in the use of technology.
Social, ethical, and human issues
  1. Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
  2. Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
  3. Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.
Technology productivity tools
  1. Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
  2. Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
Technology communications tools
  1. Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
  2. Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
Technology research tools
  1. Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
  2. Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
  3. Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.
Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
  1. Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
  2. Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world. [5, pp. 14-15]
Appendix C

Internet Sites Cited

Information Power: Nine Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning
National Educational Technology Standards for Students
Home Web page of Arthur R. Butz
Kathy Schrock, "ABC’s of Web Site Evaluation"
Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Guide to the Internet
BUBL Link Catalogue of Internet Resources
Librarians' Index to the Internet
Ask Jeeves
Northern Light
Debbie Abilock, "Choose the best search for your purpose"
Big6 Skills
Janet Murray, "Applying Big6 Skills and Information Literacy Standards to Internet Research"


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