Why Information Literacy is an Urgent Problem

Statistics demonstrate the exponential growth of information and students' growing dependence upon the Internet as their primary - or sole - source of this information.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have estimated that 2010 consumption of business information alone has reached 9.57 zetabytes.  This figure is equivalent to a 5.6 billion mile high stack of books – enough to reach to Neptune and back twenty times over.  This figure does not take into account other sorts of information – such as the increase of information on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.  Thus the authors of the study expect the increase of information to accelerate further.

Graham, Rex. "Business Information Consumption: 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes per Year." University of California San Diego News Release. Retrieved from http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/general/04-05BusinessInformation.asp

How are students dealing with this overflow of information?  A 2009 report involving students at seven U. S. colleges found many students to be challenged by the research process.  Some of the concerns students interviewed reported included:

  • Information overload (e.g., the more you know, the less you know, it’s depressing).
  • Too much irrelevant information, can’t locate what is needed from online results.
  • Beginning and getting started on an assignment.
  • Trying to find the “perfect source.”
  • Not knowing what to look for, yet still sifting through articles that might fit.
  • Trouble finding books needed on library shelves.
  • Can find the citation online, but cannot find the full text article in a database.
  • Scholarly databases or library books are out of-date.
  • Finding statistical information online.
  • Having to change and refine how to write a research paper from class to class.
  • Not having access to same materials as professors (e.g., rare documents).
  • Having to buy a source unavailable on campus
  • Trying to find the .05% of things of interest not on Web.
  • Feeling that nothing new is being said and feels like the same information again and again.
  • Conducting research to meet another’s expectations.

Head, Alison J. and Michael B. Eisenberg. "Finding Context: What Today's College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age."  Project Information Literacy Progress Report (2009): Information School, University of Washington.  Retrieved from http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_ProgressReport_2_2009.pdf

Michael Gunn, English major at the University of Kent, considers suing his institution for not informing him that his plagiarism was illegal: "I hold my hands up. I did plagiarise...But I always used the internet -cutting and pasting stuff and matching it with my own points. It's a technique I've used since I started the course. I never dreamt it was a problem."

Times Higher Education Supplement. May 28, 2004.

Students report that when doing research 87% of their peers “at least sometimes” cut and paste from the Internet without sufficient attribution.

2003 National Survey of Student Engagement

A study conducted on 23 college campuses has found that Internet plagiarism is rising among students. Thirty-eight percent of the undergraduate students surveyed said that in the last year they had engaged in one or more instances of "cut-and-paste" plagiarism involving the Internet, paraphrasing or copying anywhere from a few sentences to a full paragraph from the Web without citing the source. Almost half the students said they considered such behavior trivial or not cheating at all"

Rimer, Sara. "A Campus Fad That's Being Copied: Internet Plagiarism", New York Times, September 3, 2003, p. B7. (Search for the full text of this article in Lexis Nexis Academic.)