Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students don’t know how to do research.

Students are over-reliant on the free web to satisfy their information needs.

There are a number of reasons why students might prefer the free web (e.g., Google) to subscription databases or print materials. As a generation used to technology as an integral part of life, students might have misconceptions that searching the free web will always yield just as good, if not better, results than browsing through stacks of books or searching through periodical indexes. Students might not be motivated to go beyond the free web because of its ease, immediacy, and familiarity. This misconception might have been reinforced in high school if assignments were designed so that Google searches were an efficient way to satisfy the requirements. While this belief might be appropriate in some fields, it might also be an inappropriate generalization from one discipline to another. Moreover, while students are well acquainted with the advantages of the web, they are not in tune with its drawbacks. For instance, contrary to what students might believe, not everything is available on the free web (e.g., most books and scholarly articles are not) and, unlike print publications, information published on the web can become unavailable or change on short notice. Also, anybody can publish on the free web, leading to questions of accuracy, bias, authority of authorship, etc. Lastly, the free web is not organized in any systematic way, which makes it very challenging to choose efficient search terms and to narrow searches. If students are over-reliant on the free web, this might be a hard habit to undo.


Demonstrate to students the limits of the free web.

Give requirements for the sources or kinds of information to be used.

Demonstrate to students the limits of the free web.

Explicitly discuss with students the pros and cons of the free web vs. other sources of information. Also, consider demonstrating sample searches in your discipline on the free web and in other databases and highlight the differences in results. Liaison librarians are available to do the same for your students as part of their library instruction classes.

Give requirements for the sources or kinds of information to be used.

If this over-reliance on the free web is a problem in your course, structure your assignments so that students must expand their skill set, and tie these requirements to your grading scheme. For instance, if your course involves a research presentation at the end of the semester, you can require students to submit a literature review early on so you can check their sources and give them feedback on their appropriateness.

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