Research and the Internet

Anyone who has attended one of my teacher workshops will know that I have some strong feelings on student research and the internet.  In a new article at our Student Support Center, I share with students both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in internet research.

Without re-writing the article, I want to provide a few key points that I hope all teachers will address with their History Day students this year:

  1. One of the purposes of History Day is to get students into libraries, archives, and museums to engage with primary sources in person.  Digital collections on the internet are fantastic, but can never replace the experience of physically touching a piece of history.
  2. History Day judges are asked to look for a wide array of sources on student bibliographies.  Students should try their hardest to consult multiple types of sources – books, documents, personal interviews, photographs, and even objects – in addition to their strong internet sources.
  3. Wikipedia can be a great place to start an investigation into a topic, and it can even provide leads for in-depth research.  However, its nature as a self-publishing medium as well as its tendency to provide broad topical overviews should prevent it from being a key source.  In other words, don’t let those Wikipedia entries show up on student bibliographies!
  4. Even though their knowledge of all things technical can far outstrip our own, students still need help determining what makes an internet source reliable.  Teachers should help them ask critical questions about a site’s authorship, motive, and source material.

Do you have a technique or tip that helps students navigate the rough internet sea?  Please let me know at t.voigt@nysha.org.  I would love to share it with everyone!

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