Students know how to search the internet, but do they know how to find what they need?


Searching Information in Internet, Communicating in Social Network, Shopping Online Trendy Flat Vector Concept. Multinational Men and Women Characters Using Laptop, Smartphone or Tablet Illustration


“All men naturally have the desire to know.”

Aristotle’s Metaphysics , first book, chapter I.

We live in the information age. But this abundance of information is a double-edged sword: it is accompanied by high levels of misinformation and overinformation. Discerning between good and bad is becoming more and more complicated . Sometimes it is an activity similar to finding a needle in a haystack.

It is not always easy to discern if the information available on the web is true and reliable. For primary and secondary school students it is a particularly difficult question and, sometimes, even pre-doctoral studies do not know where to extract relevant and reliable information.

The times of physical encyclopedias

A few years ago the process was very different. Some colleagues tell how they were going to photocopy articles, magazines, books, to which they only had access in the library of the university where they were studying. Nowadays, we have everything on our electronic devices, at the click of a button. We only need to type Google or Wikipedia in our browser and we find a sea of ​​data and information.

In the internet age, it becomes difficult to discern between quality and mediocre, and even to identify fake news. This becomes a real challenge for students who are tasked with researching a certain topic for a class assignment or presentation.

Knowing how to use Google is not enough

Searching for information on the internet takes more effort than it seems: it is not just a matter of knowing how to use a search engine. Information is available on the Internet, in books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts, social networks, digital newspapers, great thinkers, TED talks, people around us, associations, companies… Millions of data and knowledge everywhere and all types.

It is with experience, with the hours and hours of searching and reading the extracted information, that we acquire this ability to distinguish between the good and the bad; to remove the straw and keep the needle. Therein lies our obligation as teachers: to transmit this knowledge to the students.

The basic tricks

There are certain methodological strategies that allow the search for information, its evaluation and selection, such as:

  1. Ask ourselves what specific information we need and why.
  2. Use of keywords. This keyword makes the search engine run, tracking the information on the network according to the specific parameters of the search engine used, giving different results depending on what words we use.For your choice, we can follow a series of tips such as the use of the asterisk * to replace an indeterminate set of characters. For example, renewable* will search not only for the word renewable , but also renewable , or other words whose stem is renewable .The asterisk can also be used as an adjective in the search. For example: “Renewable technologies more * of the last years”. It will search for the most demanded , most used renewable technologies , etc. The exclusive use of lowercase and without accents is also recommended.
  3. Compare the information provided with other search engines.
  4. Analyzing the citations and references of the information found is a good practice and highly advisable if we detect insufficient or excessive information regarding our needs. It is also possible to widen or narrow the search range by using different keywords and using the * as indicated in point 2.
  5. Verifying the quality of bibliographic sources becomes essential.

Search in the university stage

If we focus on undergraduate university students, they must be familiar with searching for reliable information for academic purposes. But, although 93.2% of the population aged 16-74 have used the Internet in the last three months, it is common in classrooms to observe how students often do not know how to find the relevant information.

Academic information is also everywhere. We no longer only have the services of the university library in its digital catalog, but we also have at our disposal large bibliographic repositories such as Scopus , Web of Science and Google Scholar , among others.

However, there are techniques that help us handle large amounts of data from reliable sources for our investigations.

A possible application

When we handle a large amount of data, the application of a bibliometric analysis becomes necessary. Bibliometric analysis is a science that uses statistical and mathematical methods to analyze the scientific literature in depth.

But, how to carry out a bibliometric analysis? For this, I propose the use of a software called VOSviewer by teachers and researchers to carry out their reviews.

VOSviewer allows the realization, visualization and exploration of co-occurrence maps, a collective interconnection of terms based on their joint presence within a text unit.

With this tool, a map is created based on a network of scientific publications, although it is also possible to create this network of scientific journals, research, countries or keywords.

To do this, information is extracted from Scopus, such as the largest database of bibliographic references on the subject to be investigated, we export the documentation and enter it in the VOSviewer to make the co-occurrence map.

Co-occurrence map of keywords in the field of study of renewable energies through econometric modelling. Author provided

The figure represents a real case , a map that analyzes 1,329 keywords in scientific articles that study the development of renewable energies through an econometric analysis. 5 groups (clusters) are identified by colors linked to the three big questions of the strategic framework of the European Union, facilitating decision-making.

Teach from childhood

To find the desired information on the internet at university, the use of specialized databases and the support of bibliometric analysis to carry out more exhaustive and rigorous studies is key.

But teaching the process of searching for information on the Internet is fundamental and must be carried out at all levels of study. It is a basic link to build an informed society capable of questioning, reasoning and thinking about any area.

Author Bio: Consoli Quintana Red is Doctor in Economics and Business. Professor and researcher in the area of ​​Applied Economics at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences of Ciudad Real at the University of Castilla-La Mancha