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IssueWeb: A Guide and Sourcebook for Researching Controversial Issues on the Web

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What student has graduated from col lege with out writing an opinion or position pa per? We dare to venture that the num ber is quite small. After all, opinion papers are an av enue for teaching critical think ing skills. They can help stu dents understand whether their opin ion on a topic has a bias, is based on suf ficient information, and falls within a continuum of widely held be liefs. It is a way for individuals to be gin play ing lifelong val ues and be liefs off those of so ciety as a whole, to evaluate their own be liefs, and to de termine what roles they wish to play in society. However, to accomplish all these things, one must be exposed to new and dif ferent ideas. One important route to this exposure is research.

The idea for this book came from an on line Internet course in which we teach students to use the Web for research pur poses. Top ics that lend themselves well to our assignments are those that are con troversial in na ture. We have discovered in the years of teaching this course that not only do students need to learn about search techniques and tools they also require instruction in the evaluation of pub lished or on line materials. Put simply, what the student knows or believes colors his or her un derstanding of the sig nificance or pur pose of what he or she reads. For instance, if we ask students to judge whether a Web site is trying to sway opin ion, one student might think it is not if the Web site corroborates his or her own worldview, while an other stu dent might think it is if the view stands in opposition to his or her own beliefs.

We have also found that the ease of us ing search en gines, such as Google or AltaVista, en courages students to take a noncontextual, key word approach to research. Spit in a word and see what co mes out. Not only does this present the student with an overwhelming amount of material, it pro vides a hap hazard lump made of pieces that are unrelated in context. An ad might ap pear in the same re - sult list as a scholarly ar ticle. An ex tremist in dividual's Web page might be grouped with a student assignment posted to a course Web site. How do we get past this? How do any of us move from be ing in dividuals who can only see con troversial in formation we read through the lens of our own bias? And how do we find material that is grouped ap propriately by type? This is the process we are at tempting to address here.

About the Author

KAREN R. DIAZ is an Instruction Librarian at the Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus. She currently teaches online courses on research skills for college students. She has held positions as Web librarian, reference librarian, and online coordinator in academic libraries. Karen holds a Masters of Library Information Science from Louisiana State University. Other publications include articles and an edited book about online reference and research. NANCY O'HANLON is currently an Instruction Librarian at the Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus, where she is responsible for developing and managing online information literacy programs. Nancy received an M.S. in Library Information Science from University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1983. In addition to holding various library positions at Ohio State, she was Associate Director of the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education, and has also worked as a freelance Web developer. She has published a variety of articles on instruction-related topics.
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