In my previous post about digital literacy, I talked about the perception that if something is on the Internet then it must be true. When you're looking for information, it's tempting to grab the first result of your Google search and run with it. It's definitely good enough if you want to verify that Hugh Jackman played Wolverine, or if it was Manet or Monet who painted "Water Lilies." It was Monet in 1919, by the way. Those kinds of questions are trivial (as a rule), but what if they weren't? If you were writing a paper for your film studies class, you might need to know that a couple of other guys played Wolverine as well.
You could spend a semester or even years learning how to evaluate information sources. You could even get an advanced degree in information science, but for those of you who aren't up for that level of devotion, consider incorporating these tips when you're composing your next research paper.
(Image info: Copyright Jisc and Livework studio CC BY-NC-ND)
If you're starting out with Google, check out more than one result and compare the information you find. Are they all saying the same thing or is there a lot of variation? The sources whose information deviates drastically from the rest might not have their facts straight. On the other hand, those outliers might be telling a story that hasn't yet reached mainstream thinking. Which leads me to my next point, who do you trust?
When evaluating an information resource, you'll want to know a few things: How long has it existed? Does the source represent a particular agenda or ideology? Are they trying to sell you something? What are the credentials of the people creating the content? Humans have a tendency to believe what we want to believe, so try and keep an open mind when looking at your sources. If you're still not sure, mention in your paper that there are opposing viewpoints out there. Include some analysis of why the subject is controversial.
I mentioned earlier that there are people who have spent years studying the science of information. These people are called librarians, and they work hard to make it easier for you to find quality information. As a member of the IU community, you have access to tons of quality online resources. You can visit the IU Libraries' Resources A-Z page, go to IUCAT (the online library catalog), use OneSearch or talk with a Librarian via web chat or in-person.
Being digitally literate means you are able to think critically about the information you're receiving. Critical thinking will get you the good grades, but it will also help you to make better, informed decisions.
Here's a list (for your evaluation), of resources on finding quality information.
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