Students lack basic research skills, study finds

Despite the wealth of information available on the Internet, a recent study suggests that many students lack basic research skills.

According to the latest Information Literacy Project progress report, 84% of students say that when it comes to course-based research, getting started is their biggest challenge. The three sources most often cited by students were course readings, search engines like Google, and scholarly research databases. Only 30% asked a librarian to help them with their research. The online survey interviewed 8,353 students from 25 college campuses nationwide.

Alison J. Head, the project’s co-principal investigator, said the findings suggest today’s students struggle with a sense of information overload.

“They feel overwhelmed and develop a strategy not to drown in all the available information,” she said. “They basically take the way they learned to research in high school with them to college because it has worked for them in the past.”

Ms Head said the results show that students approach research as a hunt for the right answer instead of a process of evaluating different arguments and coming up with their own interpretation.

“Not being aware of the various resources that exist or the different ways in which knowledge is created and shared is dangerous,” she said. “College is a time for finding information and learning about multiple arguments, and exploration is sacrificed if you conduct research in this way.”

However, Ms Head said the state of academic research is not completely disheartening. In the report, only 26% of students said they had a problem evaluating sources. In addition, students used an average of at least four standards to assess the legitimacy of a print source and at least seven standards when it came to a web source.

Paul N. Strickland