One of the major challenges facing educators in the industrialised today is how to best teach critical media literacies in a world of overwhelming amounts of information. All too often simple access to information is conflated with knowledge and understanding, that is, the ability to best source facts, critically evaluate material and bring information together in new ways and/or in service of one’s own argument. Instead, many students desire to find the one or two sources which they hope exist which directly ‘answer’ the question, and believe that their examiner is looking for a summary of this ‘expert’ work, rather than a cogently argued essay of the student’s own crafting. Interestingly, and as evidence of broader shifts in educational values, while ‘laziness’ or time pressure may play a part here, there is also a genuine belief on the part of some students that this is the correct way to go about researching and writing university essays.
As the coordinator of a compulsory first year university foundation course focussed upon issues in contemporary media studies, communicating skills in relation to evaluating online resources is something I need to address head on. In 2008, I introduced a new annotated bibliography assessment tool in order to help facilitate the development of greater critical research skills in our students. This paper reports upon the responses to this assessment tool and will reflect upon what insights it offers us into the place of critical thinking in the modern university, as well as the broader digital media environment.