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Information Literacy


Once you determine a need for information, it is useful to think about the types of information that will help you fill that need. When thinking about the sources you might want to look for, consider source audience and source format. Knowing the source's format and audience can help you select appropriate sources depending on your purpose for using the source. Knowing what types of sources you are looking for can also help you find the right sources more efficiently; the Relay Library, for example, allows users to filter by source format.

Note that while it is useful to think about the sources that will be useful to you in advance, when you start searching, you will want to be open to finding unexpected sources that are still useful to you.

Source Audience

Sources are always written with a given audience in mind. If a source is written for experts, it may be more reputable, but it also may be more difficult for non-experts to understand. On the other hand, sources written for a general audience may be more readable, but less rigorous and nuanced. 

While the target audience for a resource may not always be clear cut, knowing the type of resource you are looking for can help you better find those resources. Some search engines will allow you to filter by "scholarly articles" or "trade publications." You can also look at the description of the book or abstract of the article to quickly determine the audience for the source, and whether it might meet your needs.

  Description Useful For: Example
Popular Sources Popular sources are written for a general audience: people who want to learn about a subject but aren't professionals or scholars on that subject. These sources may or may not be well-researched or credible, depending on the author and publisher, but because they are aimed at non-expert audiences, they are generally not very nuanced or rigorous. Popular sources are useful if you want to know more about a subject you are unfamiliar with. If you're looking for a general history of the teaching profession, or the story of a specific teacher, a popular source might be your best bet. Also, most of the sources you find for your students in the classroom are going to be popular sources. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth is a researcher and has written scholarly sources on this subject, but this particular book is aimed towards a general audience who may know very little about her field of psychology.
Professional/ Practitioner Sources Practitioner sources are geared towards people in a specific profession. They may cover trends, summarize recent research, or provide practical advice for professionals. Sometimes, these sources are peer-reviewed, but often they are not. If you are looking for practical resources to improve your teaching, professional/practitioner resources are your best bet.  Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world? by Thomas R. Hoerr. This book is published by ASCD, a professional association for teachers and school leaders, and provides a six-step process for teaching students grit, along with lesson plans and self-assessments. 
Scholarly Sources Scholarly sources are written for experts and researchers in a field, and contain theory and research studies. These sources often go through a peer-review process, in which experts in the field review the source before it is published. Therefore, scholarly sources are more likely to be credible, but they are also likely more specialized and difficult to read and are less likely to contain practical tips. Scholarly sources are useful if you want to look at research studies or theories about a given topic. If you want research to back up a claim (say, an justification for why you have planned a lesson the way you have, or as evidence to convince your principal to make a schoolwide change), scholarly sources are likely your best bet.  "Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale" by Angela Duckworth and Patrick Quinn. This article is written for a scholarly audience, and describes various studies that were conducted. If you want evidence for whether or not Duckworth's "Grit Scale" has been proven to work, you may want to read through this article. 

How do I know what type of source I need?

The type of resource you're looking for will depend on what you're doing with it! If you're looking for curricular resources, best practices, practical strategies and advice, or classroom resources, you'll be more successful if you're browsing popular or professional publications. These include resources like educator blogs, newspapers, magazines, and practitioner journals. Resources like EdWeek or Curriculum Resource Center are great options for these types of resources!

If you're working on a research paper, literary review, data narrative, or other scholarly work, you're going to be looking primarily for scholarly academic literature to support your argument. You'll want to filter your results for peer-reviewed and scholarly work to cite in your paper - you might be able to find useful resources in practitioner journals, but as a general rule you shouldn't be citing popular sources.

Source Format

There are many different types of source formats: books, articles, blog posts, Wikipedia articles, videos, images, etc. The format of the source reflects the process used to create that source: how it was researched, created, revised, published, and disseminated. The information creation process may be indicators of a source's quality and usefulness. For example, anyone can edit Wikipedia articles. This means that they are updated far more frequently than traditionally published sources, and are excellent sources on topics related to popular culture. However, Wikipedia articles are not formally reviewed by experts, and so they are generally not a good source to use as evidence or justification in an academic setting.

Here are just a few source formats you may find:

  Description Useful For
Websites/Blogs Websites and blogs may contain a number of useful resources or articles with information, but vary tremendously in content and quality.  Personal websites and blogs are generally published immediately by the author, without being formally edited or reviewed. Websites of larger organizations may have their content edited, but generally not as extensively as works published in more traditional mediums.   If you're looking for quick tips or lesson plan examples from a fellow teacher, and it doesn't much matter if they've been formally proven by research to be effective, social media and websites might be useful places to look for information. You will generally want to look to see who the author of the website is; some educators may have years of experience and formal education, while others may not have the same level of expertise. If the website is from a highly respected organization, its information is more likely to be trustworthy.
Journal or Magazine Articles Journal or magazine articles may appear in print or online. These generally go through a publishing process, where someone other than the author reviews the article before it gets published. Articles in scholarly journals have generally been peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Articles in popular magazines or practitioner journals may not go through the same vetting process, so you may want to look at the author's credentials and the reputation of the publication to determine the trustworthiness of the source. Articles are usually on a more specific topic and have more limited coverage, given their short length. Articles are useful if you want information on a more recent development, if you want to read about one specific research study, or if you want quick tips.
Books Books are longer, and are therefore are likely to have more in-depth, comprehensive coverage on a subject. However, they take awhile to publish and may not contain information about very recent developments. If you want a more comprehensive overview of a general subject or a deep dive into a more specific topic, books are likely more useful than articles.