Academics are not critically assessing their sources of online information

With the prominence of social networking sites, many choose to absorb their information from online-based sources, often times putting themselves at risk of misinformation.

In a study by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, researchers found that students are prioritizing online information rather than traditional teaching materials, intermittently lacking the critical assessment of their sources.

The research group assessed 160 students in their first or second semester studying either of two disciplines: economics or medicine. They were enrolled in an online test known as the Critical Online Reasoning Assessment (CORA).

Nearly all the participants stumbled upon difficulties in solving the tasks associated with the test. “The majority of the students did not use any scientific sources at all,” according to one of the study’s co-authors.

“We are always testing new groups of students, and the assessment has also been continued as a longitudinal study. Since we first started conducting these assessments two years ago, the results are always similar: the students tend to achieve low scores.”

In the study, the students exhibited a lack of critical evaluation of online sources and had complications with suitably extracting relevant information from reliable sources in accordance with their tasks.

“As we know from other studies, students are certainly able to adequately judge the reliability of well-known media portals and Internet sources,” said another co-author of the study. “We could build on this fact and foster the skills required to critically evaluate new sources and online information and to use the Internet in a reflected manner to generate warranted knowledge.”

As researchers suggest, the findings showcase the need for more comprehensive learning on the critical assessment of online-based sources. Currently, there are very few training approaches available for students, as the study indicates.

“We are currently in the process of developing teaching/learning materials and training courses and of testing their effectiveness. The analysis of the processing will be particularly useful when it comes to offering students targeted support in the future,” the research group concluded.

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