Monday, February 13, 2012

Information Literacy and Safe Sex

I've been working on a new in-class activity to teach MLA citation. My latest idea involves having students construct citations using our MLA Format handout and withdrawn books and periodicals in which I've marked the information necessary for the citation (author's name, page numbers, volume number, etc.) in colored highlighter. I don't know how it's going to go over; my class is tomorrow, but as I prepared this exercise, I debated about whether or not to include websites. I printed out screenshots so that I could highlight the title, sponsor, and so on as I had with the books and articles, but I really want to discourage them from just going to Google for their research.

As I mulled it over, I realized that my attitude toward teaching proper website citation was exactly like the logic behind handing out condoms in schools. Most arguments I've heard for teaching safe sex go something like this:

We really don't want to encourage teens to become sexually active, but we know that we can't do anything to stop them. If they're going to do it anyway, we may as well educate them so they can do so safely.

Here's how I feel about teaching my students to cite websites:
  • Using websites for research can be helpful and legitimate.
  • I don't trust that most college students can make good choices about what constitutes a reliable source of information on the Web, but I know they're going to go to Google anyway, no matter how many library databases I show them.
  • Since they're going to use websites as sources for their research papers, they should at least be taught how to cite them properly.

I realize that in this analogy, I've equated plagiarism with STDs and/or unwanted pregnancy, and this might seem a little extreme. But hey, both can have serious consequences for your academic career.


  1. And, really, wouldn't you rather they learn about Google in the library from you rather than from their peers??

  2. I am so glad that Klub Kat is back in action. Amanda, I think you found a purr-fect analogy for information literacy!

  3. That is indeed a purr-fect analogy -- just the name "information literacy" is such a huge hurdle to jump!