Toolographies — the new essential ingredient of student research?

My colleague (Vicki Courtenay) and I were this morning discussing the draft Information Literacy Continuum that she is developing for our school. It refers to the skills, knowledge and dispositions we expect from students at different stages of their progression through the school, with very specific reference to cross-curricular elements (not just the general capabilities per se). From the Library point of view, these are the types of characteristics we expect to see from students who come through our research lessons, who engage in at least 6 formal research assessment tasks per year across their subjects, and who we assume must be getting better at it with each attempt.

One point I raised was that perhaps in addition to assessing their “knowledge and skills”, say, for example, their ability to include specific and reliable historical information in a presentation on the Khmer Empire, perhaps we also need to assess the way in which they accessed that information, the ethical frameworks they used and judgements they made to find, select and include that information. So not just requiring students to access information but requiring them to think carefully about how they do it and why.

Paired with this, perhaps we also therefore need to now assess the tools they use to access that information, to check it and to include it in their essays. Indeed, what about the tools they use to check their spelling, their grammar, their essay structure, their quotations, their links, their synonyms, and, of course, their references and bibliographies.

Perhaps we need to have students include a toolography, a list — perhaps annotated — of the tools they used to source, to organise and to present their information. The aim of this would be that they become more aware of the process of doing research in a digital world, a world where services exist purportedly to remove ‘pain points’ but actually end up doing the micro- or macro-tasks that form the very processes we are assessing.

In a world where Grammarly will proofread your work, where Google Translate will check your inflections, where Endnotes or Refworks makes referencing a breeze compared to doing it by hand, are we assessing students’ work or the work of algorithms and edtech startups? Further, are we assessing skills, knowledge and dispositions that the student has not actually learned, but has actually learned to outsource?

Should at least one dot point in a marking criteria or rubric be:

Student demonstrates (strong/adequate/limited) ability to select and use appropriate digital tools to support their research.

Would love to know if schools and other institutions are doing this already.