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How college students seek information

Alison Head and Mike Eisenberg of the University of Washington’s iSchool Project Information Literacy released its latest research report, Lessons Learned: How College Students Find Information in the Digital Age on December 1 (42 pages, PDF, 3 MB).  The online survey questioned 27,666 students at six community colleges and colleges and universities around the country and sought to determine which sources students are likely to consult when they conduct research. 

Major findings from the survey are as follows:

1. Many students in the sample reported being curious, engaged, and motivated at the beginning of the course-related and everyday life research process.  Respondentsʼ need for big-picture context, or background about a topic, was the trigger for beginning course-related (65%) or everyday life research (63%).
2. Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first for course-related research assignments. Likewise, Google and Wikipedia were the go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent.
3. Librarians were tremendously underutilized by students. Eight out of 10 of the respondents reported rarely, if ever, turning to librarians for help with course-related research assignments.
4. Nine out of 10 students in the sample turned to libraries for certain online scholarly research databases (such as those provided by EBSCO, JSTOR, or ProQuest) for conducting course-related research, valuing the resources for credible content, in-depth information, and the ability to meet instructorsʼ
5. Even though it was librarians who initially informed students about using online scholarly research databases during freshmen training sessions, students in follow-up interviews reported turning to instructors as valued research coaches, as they advanced through the higher levels of their education.
6. The reasons why students procrastinate are no longer driven by the same pre-Internet fears of failure and a lack of confidence that once were part of the college scene in the 1980s. Instead, we found that most of the digital natives in the sample (40%) tended to delay work on assignments as they juggled their needs to meet competing course demands from other classes.

Almost every
student in our
sample turned to
course readings—
not Google—first
for course-
related research

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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