Do we cite our sources?

This is the first in a series of “dissertation insight” posts that I plan to record in this space. I hope the insights generate some discussion and also turn into words (very soon) that look like a publishable piece of work!

Miss, do we cite our sources?

Prompted by (a) a series of students who asked, at the start of the study, “do we cite our sources,” and (b) their ready dispensation of the practice when, in response, I said, “It’s up to you,” I offer a reflection:

The question, “do we cite our sources” is never, it seems, posed because students want to be sure it’s okay to engage in a critical or evaluative conversation about authorship, bias or source reliability. Rather, it is my impression that this question is largely grounded in a school-based “script”, activated when the school-based task involves research. Students ask whether they should cite their sources because they’ve been told they should cite their sources. They don’t seem to ask because they’ve developed evaluative dispositions for online inquiry. To my mind, students wouldn’t ask the question at all if it were just part of their online inquiry process, or considered so important that they couldn’t imagine not citing sources. Instead, it is my sense that students just want to do the “right” or the “expected” thing; when given the choice, almost all participants in my study decided not to provide source references in their notes.

Moreover, it has been rare, so far, in the pre-test and control-group data to find students questioning authorship, making note of potential bias in perspective, or considering the organizational mandate that may have shaped the structure or content of the texts they find and read.

Implication: We need to think more about how we model and prepare children to question Internet texts critically. Based on these emerging data, I see that children need to develop mindsets and, indeed dispositions, around Internet texts that go well beyond the “cite your sources” mantra.

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