Learning Exercise

Using Online Databases

Students generate research questions, and locate documents on subscription online database aggregators, and compare databases in terms of process and results.


This program informs students about differences between popular and scholarly periodicals, and techniques for finding... see more


1. Lead a class discussion about searching for documents. Ask students how they typically find documents such as articles within a magazine.

2. To explain about databases, show the following video to the class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2GMtIuaNzU If needed, explain that specialists, such as librarians, cite and describe articles and other parts of a resource (such as a magazine or newspaper) as metadata, and collect these metadata into databases. Database aggregators collect and index multiple databases to facilitate the retrieval of the metadata and often the information itself. Libraries subscribe to database aggregators because those products select age-appropriate materials and index them for easy retrieval.

3. To explain how to locate an article on an online database, follow the module 4Finding articles (http://guides.library.uwm.edu/infolit/module4). Demonstrate a couple of sample searches from your library’s database. If your school does not subscribe to any databases, contact the public library for access, or use free databases, such as http://eric.ed.gov/ or lists to them, such as http://csulb.libguides.com/freedatabases.

4. Disseminate an index card to each student, and ask them to write their names in the card corner. Ask students to create a research question from their current coursework. Ask students to exchange cards, and critique them as to quality of the question; they should revise them accordingly.

5. Ask pairs to circle the key words on their cards, and then access two relevant documents to answer the research question. First, both students will independently locate two documents from one of the research questions, and then they will compare their results and process. They should each jot down the citation of their preferred document found on the back of the card. Note that many databases now provide a standardized citation, which is usually accurate (students should review the citation because it is generated mechanically).

6. Next, ask pairs to exchange their other research question with another pair, and repeat step 5.

7. If the class has access to several databases, discuss with them about the process of choosing the most appropriate database: by topic and type of documents that the database indexes. If there’s time, show the class a list of databases from a public and university library, and have them generate a research topic and match with the most appropriate database. Note that many databases provide information about their scope.

8. Point out issues about citation as needed, using http://csulb.libguides.com/style.

9. Debrief with the class about their experience in locating information: use of key words, number of “hits,” possible modifications of searching, type of documents found, the quality of the documents (e.g., currency, accuracy, reading level). “How does this experience inform your future online searching?” “How does the use of databases help you become career-college ready?”

Technical Notes

Class set of Internet-connected computers

Demonstration Internet-connected computer


2 index cards per student


Students generate research questions on index card, and peer review them.

Students identify keywords on their index cards.

Students locate documents on subscription online database aggregators, using the keywords.

Students compare databases in terms of process and results.


Online database aggregators

Keyword searching

Learning Objectives

Explain reasons to use online database aggregators to locate documents.

Explain the process of searching for documents within an online database aggregator.

Demonstrate howto locate documents on subscription online database aggregators. Compare search processes and results among different online database aggregators.


Students’ index cards are evaluated in terms of the quality of the research question, the accuracy of the circled key words, the appropriateness of the located document, and the accuracy of the document citation.