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Online Learning for Information Literacy: Use Sources

A collection of online tutorials, videos, class exercises, and assessments for developing students' information literacy.

Use Sources

Help your students with...

  • Developing research question(s) based on curiosity, information gaps, and/or conflicting information
  • Interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing information in order to form new knowledge
  • Determining an appropriate scope of investigation and applying advanced research strategies for the need, context, and type of inquiry 

Class Exercise: Following the Conversation

Provide students with an article you've already assigned or discussed so everyone is familiar with its major findings or argument. During class, ask small groups to review the paper's introduction, pick a few articles it cites (3, 5, or more depending on how long you want the activity to take), and record how the paper uses the older findings or arguments to support the work it will eventually do. Then ask groups to find articles that cite the paper you provided (Google Scholar and many library databases can help with this) and look to see how the more recent articles describe and use the original findings (using ctrl + f or command + f to search for the author(s) will make this easier). Finally, students should make some sort of graphical representation of how the different articles connect and how the ideas in the article you provided were both inspired by what came before and built upon by what came after. 


Class Exercise: Research Process Sharing

Get students talking about their personal research processes and how they choose to tackle large projects. This activity can be completed synchronously or asynchronously through an online discussion forum.

Begin by saying that the goal is for people to reflect on habits and strategies that work well for them. Students should take a few minutes to think about the steps and stages in their research process and then create some sort of visual representation of that process. For an in-person class, this can mean writing individual steps on sticky notes and adding them to a shared timeline on a whiteboard. For online students, this might mean creating a PowerPoint slide that depicts the steps in sequence.

Take note of commonalities across student responses. When do people say they look for background information? Which people indicate that they repeat or revisit specific steps? When does writing happen, and is it presented as single step or its own iterative process?


Class Exercise: Synthesis Mapping

Have students create a visual representation of the ways their sources relate, connect, and work in conversation with each other. This can be done in person using scraps of paper or online using a tool like Padlet. One major benefit of this exercise is that it gets students working with sources they've already discovered and plan to use for their assignment.

Begin by asking students to create 1–3 separate notes for each of their sources, summarizing the authors' major findings or arguments. The next task is to create groupings of notes based on where the sources' findings or arguments overlap in useful ways. Each time students create a cluster or grouping of different sources, they should include a brief sentence that summarizes what the sources collectively argue when presented together (i.e., What's the takeaway point?). For an example of what this may look like, please refer to this sample Padlet.

Video: What is a Literature Review?

This video provides a short overview of a literature, with a focus on defining "the literature" and the literature review as a critical analysis of the state of research on a topic.

Length: 3 minutes

Created by the University of Houston Libraries.

How do I use this?: Link directly to the video on YouTube:

Video: Research Synthesis

This video walks students through the process of synthesizing multiple sources when writing a paper. It also introduces the idea of using a matrix to track what contributions individual sources can offer to the final paper while still leaving room for the student's contributions.

Length: 3 minutes

This video was created by Utah State University Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

How do I use this?: Link directly to the video on YouTube: