Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg of the University of Washington present the report Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age. This is “A report about college students and their information-seeking strategies and research difficulties, including findings from 8,353 survey respondents from college students on 25 campuses distributed across the U.S. in spring of 2010, as part of Project Information Literacy.”

Key findings:

  • Students in the sample took little at face value and reported they were frequent evaluators of information culled from the Web and to a lesser extent, the campus library. More often than anything else, respondents considered whether information was up-todate and current when evaluating Web content (77%) and library materials (67%) for course work.
  • Evaluating information was often a collaborative process—almost two-thirds of the respondents (61%) reportedly turned to friends and/or family members when they needed help and advice with sorting through and evaluating information for personal use.
  • Nearly half of the students in the sample (49%) frequently asked instructors for assistance with assessing the quality of sources for course work—far fewer asked librarians (11%) for assistance.
  • For over three-fourths (84%) of the students surveyed, the most difficult step of the course-related research process was getting started. Defining a topic (66%), narrowing it down (62%), and filtering through irrelevant results (61%) frequently hampered students in the sample, too. Follow-up interviews suggest students lacked the research acumen for framing an inquiry in the digital age where information abounds and intellectual discovery was paradoxically overwhelming for them.