Harriet Wilton recently joined the team at JCS Online Resources. She here writes about her personal experience of digital literacy at secondary and university level.

I’m a new face here at JCS Online Resources having taken up the role of Marketing Executive at the beginning of September. After graduating earlier this year from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature I’m fresh into the role from studying. My degree at university was one founded on rigorous independent research practices, requiring me to take the lead in directing my own studies and finding appropriate sources to support them. Yet lack of training and experience using trusted online resources at secondary level meant this was something I was underprepared for. From secondary to degree level my own digital literacy skills have been something constantly subject to scrutiny, and it is this experience that I want to share with you.

At secondary level I was alone at sea when it came to research. My school had no subscriptions to e-resources, and I received neither training nor education regarding research techniques and strategy. This meant that when pursuing independent research tasks, primarily for my A-Level English Literature coursework, I turned instinctively to Google without a second thought. The limited nature of my independent research skills resulted in many English Literature lessons spent sifting through the deluge of articles and websites found on Google with no consideration of their reliability or relevance.

Students, like myself, who do not receive e-resource training at secondary level often come to rely solely on Google when conducting their independent research. Pew Research Centre’s report, ‘How Teens Do Research in the Digital World’ found that ‘94% of the teachers surveyed say their students are ‘very likely’ to use Google or other online search engines in a typical research assignment’, with the report going on to show that students were more likely to use Google and Wikipedia ahead of online databases. Dr Robert Furey, Associate Provost of International Relations and Field Studies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, commented regarding this overreliance on Google, stating: ‘I think that undisciplined Google searches have destroyed the ability of upcoming students to do proper research, let alone synthesize these findings.’

My underdeveloped research skills resulted in a shaky first essay at university. It was to be submitted a week before teaching began, and so left alone to write it I turned to the only research method I knew – searching Google. Yet whilst I had previously gone to Google without a second thought, the academic step-up started to reveal the flaws in my research practice. Not only did my use of Google take a long time, as I trawled through the masses of results generated, but in not considering the relevance and reliability of sources the academic authority of my work was also compromised.

It was from the struggle of my first essay and submitting its flimsy pages that I began to realise the extent of my ignorance regarding e-resources. However, I was not alone in this realisation.

The English Faculty Library came to the rescue of myself and many other students. They provided intense and interactive training sessions on how to navigate and effectively use the university’s own online databases and the catalogue of e-resources they offered. This training held during the first week of university term, and the on-going support provided by the faculty librarians, was invaluable in cultivating the independent research skills foundational to my whole degree.

I was no longer blindly searching Google, but was instead directed to expertly curated articles, journals and e-books that improved the academic quality of my work. Using online resources, such as JSTOR and Drama Online, not only helped to provide structure and authority to my independent research practices, but also to widen the scope of my research areas and interests.

Receiving both training and access to online resources at secondary level would not only have helped me to develop independent research skills beneficial to my A-Level coursework but would have also developed strong academic practices and core research skills key to negotiating the transition to university level work. Secondary education needs to leave ‘Googling’ behind and help create digitally literate students with the independent research skills integral to ensuring their educational success in the digital age.

I am so pleased to find that JCS is helping to address digital literacy in schools, and am looking forward to being a part of this year’s conference, Digital Literacy in Schools: building capabilities, which will focus on the importance of digital capabilities in schools and sixth form colleges. Hopefully I’ll meet many of you there, and properly introduce myself as a new face here at JCS.

Find out more and book your place at this year’s JCS conference here.