Beyond Content – Research Skills for 21st Century Students

Online education research skills



All good teachers go beyond teaching the content of a particular subject.  Teaching students how to learn is just as important, if not more important, than any specific content item that appears on an exam.



The International Baccalaureate (IB) has recognized this for a long time with the IB Learner Profile and now, with the launch of the new program models (shown below), developing effective ‘approaches to learning’ is emphasized throughout and at the center of all four programs.

IB Programmes Pamoja Education

© International Baccalaureate Organization 2012

Beyond Research Skills

One skill set that often gets overlooked is the student’s ability to access, use, and evaluate information effectively and efficiently (i.e., information literacy). The phrase information literacy is frequently misunderstood and sometimes limited to the term ‘research skills’, but it is really so much more than that.

The Association of College and Research Libraries defines information literacy and outlines what information literate students are able to do here.  But in essence students need to consider the following questions on a more regular basis:

1) What is the purpose of my research?

  • Do I need to complete an assignment?  Create a presentation?  Is the task focused around knowledge acquisition or does it require higher-level thinking like analysis or synthesis?
  • Do I need text?  Video?  Pictures?  Audio?
  • Is the information I am downloading legal? Ethical?

2) How can I find the information?

  • What is the best way to search for information? Database? Google? Facebook? Twitter?  Interview an expert? Creative Commons?
  • Is the internet always better?
  • What technology tool works best – smartphone, tablet, or computer?
  • Do I understand the difference between academic and popular information?  Primary vs. secondary?  Quantitative vs. qualitative?

3) How do I evaluate information?

  • Can I detect bias?
  • How do I ensure the validity of the information?
  • Does the information satisfy the original purpose of my research?
  • Can I detect crap information? (See Howard Rheingold’s video Crap Detection 101 or blog post)

4) How can I best use and share the information?

  • Who is my audience? Who should I share the information with?
  • Should I be using copy/paste?
  • How do I cite my sources?
  • Which tool/software will work best to use/present my information?
  • What are the next steps?

What To Do – Five Useful Tips For Educators

As you can see this is a long list of questions that students rarely consider.  It can’t be done in one lesson and can’t be done by just one teacher.  So, how can we as educators help our students become more information literate?

  • Make sure assignments ask students to go beyond copy/paste of basic knowledge and clearly outline expectations for any research.
  • Look for opportunities to discuss the legal and ethical issues surrounding the downloading of movies and music as well as images and citing text.
  • Model effective information literacy by using Creative Commons and citing sources accurately in your own presentations.
  • Use resources like as a teaching resource not as a way to catch and punish students, but as another way to teach students how to use information properly.
  • And finally, if you are lucky enough to have a librarian at your school (or if you are like me and are lucky enough to be married to one) plan and collaborate with your librarian on a regular basis. 

Additional videos and links:

This post was written by Pamoja Education Business & Management Teacher and HoD Brad Opfer in collaboration with librarian Kim Opfer
Brad Opfer


3 thoughts on “Beyond Content – Research Skills for 21st Century Students

  1. Hi Brad,

    Thanks for this. It is a great summary of research skills. I was interested to see how you tied this closely to Approaches to Learning. This seems a good opportunity to create situations and routines in class that allow student to ask the types of questions that lead to good research, including observation skills, reasoning skills and looking for connections. Examples of these routines are See, Think, Wonder (STW) and Think, Puzzles, Explore (TPE) both which lead students to research from what they see and what they know.


  2. You raise some really important points, Brad. I recently addressed issues of citation and inadvertent plagiarism on the IB Psychology@Pamoja blog. An understanding of how to use information is something that a lot of students seem to struggle with and something we as teachers need to help them to develop.

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