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Researching Students' Information Choices

Researching Students’ Information Choices: Determining Identity and Judging Credibility in Digital Spaces

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When assigned a science research project, where do today’s students usually turn for information?  The Internet, of course.  When presented with a mock project and a set of Google search results, how do students select the items they are going to use?  What components of each resource (title, URL, author, date, source, etc.) play a role in that resource's selection?  Our study observed students from grades 4 through graduate school as they choose resources when searching the web.  Building an understanding of this process helps teachers and librarians provide better instruction on these vital stages in the research process.


About Our Study


Investigators at the University of Florida (UF) George A. Smathers Libraries in partnership with researchers at OCLC and Rutgers University  participated in Researching Students’ Information Choices: Determining Identity and Judging Credibility in Digital Spaces (RSIC). Our project team was composed of academic librarians, research scientists, an educational technology specialist, a school media researcher, and an advisory panel of practitioners. RSIC was a four-year Institute of Museum and Libraries Services (IMLS)-funded research project and examined students’ point-of-selection behavior (i.e., the moment a user determines a piece of information potentially meets a research need). In this study, the research need took the form of a science inquiry assignment about the Burmese python in the Everglades. Six groups of students from fourth grade through graduate school participated in the study. Community college, undergraduate, and graduate students were Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) majors.

Our team designed and employed simulated search engine results pages along with a think-aloud protocol to gather students' thought processes as they progressed through a task-based research session. Students were presented with a controlled set of search results and asked to determine the helpfulness, citability, credibility, and container of the resources. A short video demonstration of the simulation can be viewed at:

To complement the data collected from the task-based research sessions, we gathered pre-screen survey and interview data detailing students’ demographics, educational experiences, and information-seeking behaviors.


Want More Information? See our project's full proposal


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant number LG-81-15-0155.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

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