Authority, Context and Containers: Student Perceptions and Judgments When Using Google for School Work

By Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Joyce Kasman Valenza, Christopher Cyr, PhD, Tara Tobin Cataldo, Amy G. Buhler, Ixchel M. Faniel, PhD, Rachael Elrod, PhD, Randy A. Graff, PhD, Samuel R. Putnam, Brittany Brannon, PhD, Erin M. Hood, Kailey Langer

What really happens when student researchers meet a Google results page? How do students determine the authority behind each result? News, blogs, journals, Wikipedia, websites, e-books--with the vast array of online content available, how do students differentiate between them? Better still, do they differentiate between them or are these format agnostic students stymied by container collapse? The Researching Students’ Information Choices (RSIC) project is answering these questions.

The Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education aims to guide educators in their work to develop today’s students into critical thinking denizens of the digital world. The work of RSIC can directly inform the first frame, “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual.” This Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded study, examines and compares the judgments and perceptions of students (from late primary, secondary, community college/vocational school, undergraduate, to graduate school/postgraduate) as they select resources for science-related school inquiry projects. Our project team includes academic science librarians, pre-service LIS educators, school librarians, and research scientists. We enlisted K-12, community college, four-year college, and university librarians and faculty as members of our Advisory Panel.

The analyses identify students’ perceptions and judgments related to the source and author/creator of three resources common to all participants included in Google search results, and the role the container plays in determining whether the resource is credible and citable for a school/academic project. Students used cues from the web search results screen in their judgements and educational stage influenced their behavior in some instances. These findings can be used by librarians to design scalable instructional models to support critical student inquiry skills. The research results also will contribute to and support evidence-based decision making for the implementation of information literacy instruction grounded in frameworks, guidelines, and standards. 

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Note: This article was originally published as an IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) Conference paper. [Available:]

Suggested citation:

Connaway, L. S., Valenza, J. K., Cyr, C., Cataldo, T. T., Buhler, A. G., Faniel, I. M., Elrod, R.,  Graff, R. A., Putnam, S. R., Brannon, B., Hood, E. M., & Langer, K. (2019). Authority, context, and containers: Student perceptions and judgments when using Google for school work. IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) Conference paper. 

Authority, Context and Containers: Student Perceptions and Judgments When Using Google for School Work