Researching Students’ Information Choices:

Determining Identity and Judging Credibility in Digital Spaces

In the information overload of today’s digital world, determining the purpose, quality, and trustworthiness of resources is essential to finding good information. By studying how STEM students identify resource types and judge credibility in online spaces, this project will help to develop meaningful strategies for teaching the information literacy skills that will allow students to successfully navigate the ever-evolving online landscape.

Project website (University of Florida):


Cataldo, Tara Tobin. (2016, June 26). "Container Collapse!: How Students Determine Identity And Credibility Of Digital Resources." Presented at the 22nd Annual Reference Research Forum at ALA, Orlando, FL.


  1. Study the online information-seeking behaviors of two under-studied groups:
    • Late elementary and middle school students
    • STEM students
  2. Determine whether students are format agnostic in online environments
  3. Inform practical, effective approaches to information literacy instruction


For this research project, we will consider whether students are format agnostic. First coined by Abram and Luther (2004), the term refers to students who either cannot or do not identify the container (i.e. document type) when making judgments relating to use of digital resources. Several usage studies have reported that students experience trouble distinguishing among different digital resources, such as e-books and e-journals (Croft, 2004; Levine-Clark, 2006; Shelburne, 2009). Soules (2009) goes so far as to say “E-book, e-journal? Users don’t care; in fact they never cared, and many only understood book vs. journal in the print world because of the difference in their physical structures. What they want is relevant content” (pg. S4).

But how do students distinguish whether relevant digital content is also credible digital content?  Given the limited published research on how late primary, secondary, community college, and undergraduate STEM students identify and determine credibility, this project will provide new knowledge to librarians and educators. This information will be promulgated with practitioners for incorporation into information literacy courses, and other teaching and learning environments to aid STEM students in effectively determining credibility in the discovery, access, and use of digital resources.

Project Lead:

Amy Buhler, MSLS, Principal Investigator, University of Florida

Team Members