Online information literacy study in Auckland secondary schools

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By Alice

“Our digikids may have the ICT technical skills but they possess limited online information and critical evaluation skills and teachers don’t have strategies to teach these skills. “ These were the findings of a just published New Zealand study undertaken by Judine Ladbrook and Elizabeth Probert.

School librarians will find this research extremely relevant useful as the context of the research is the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s vision statement that young people will be, “confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners. Ludbrook and Probert describe the lifelong learner as “literate, critical thinkers who actively seek, use and create knowledge.” These are the attributes of an information literate person.

Their research involved three large Auckland secondary schools and began with 188 year 10 students and from those students 22 of the most active, experienced and skilled at using ICT and at seeking information on line were selected for the research.

The students undertook focus group discussions and surveys about how they used information from the internet and how the teachers helped them with the skills involved.

Searching Behaviour

All 16 students used Google as their only search engine. The strategy for choosing a site was to enter the first listed site and they never went beyond the third listed site! Many students based their judgments of site trustworthiness on how the site looked. It was trustworthy if “it’s nicely presented, it’s not just white background, black writing” because that “shows a professionalism” and “it doesn’t have the adverts or pop ups.” Nearly all of the students felt that a internet site was accurate if it was well laid out and divided into chunks with sub-headings as this lent itself to accuracy and if it “sounded convincing it probably was true.”

Using Information and Plagiarising

The students' strategy for using the information did not involve any synthesising but simple cutting and pasting. When they were asked to research using more than one source students 75% of the students used strategies such as putting in sites that they hadn’t used but which had come up on their initial Google search.

Steps teachers need to take to set student up for success

The students suggested that the prior knowledge work would enable them to judge information more accurately. The students did suggest that if teachers gave them several URLs, a couple of articles or chapters in books from which to choose information, and also built their prior knowledge, then they would be unable to plagiarise because teachers would know their information sources and also it would stop them from adding false references.

Lack of teacher support

One of the key themes that emerged from the research was how little teachers helped students develop their research skills. Most of the students stated that little help had been given to them. There was often an assumption by their teachers that research skills had already been taught before students reached secondary school.

Some students got given a list of helpful sites but only a few were given some minimal help to research on the internet. None of them were given help to use books to research, apart from being taken to the library.


The authors suggest teachers conduct diagnostic work to see what students can do in the area of information literacy and in using online resources, and use this information to make pedagogical decisions for addressing the gaps.

With the advent of the new e-Learning Planning Framework in schools, enabling “students to be successful citizens in a digital world” the deliberate teaching of information literacy skills is even more crucial.

Further reading

Ladbrook, J. & Probert, E. (2011), Information skills and critical literacy:
Where are our digikids at with online searching and are their teachers helping?
Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(1), 105-121.