Why It’s Time To Change How Students Cite Their Work

student cites work

When students write a paper, it goes without saying that they must cite the sources that they use in creating it. For generations, students have created note cards to document and organize these resources and/or submitted a bibliography page with their finished work.

In the modern classroom, student research and creation has taken on a new look. Before, when students created a poster, and then separately handed in a bibliography page to the teacher, justice was done and fair credit was given for the ideas used.

However, as widespread sharing of these projects becomes more common, and the internet allows students to reach an audience far beyond the school or classroom, we need to re-evaluate this procedure and address our responsibility to share these sources – not just with the teacher or school, but with all who might consume the project.

Without readily available sources to review, the audience cannot truly evaluate the validity of the project. They are left with what might be a beautiful and elegant project (the product) without knowing the sources used to construct it (the process).

Sharing sources with an audience is how we can focus on the PROCESS of creation rather than seeing only the PRODUCT.

Sharing Sources of Student Work

1. Include citations for individual pieces of information within the products themselves. This method has the advantage of sharing the sources with those who are consuming the project. For a classroom, this further engages the class in evaluating the sources that are used and allows them to ask “is that a valid source?” or “does that source have a perspective or a bias?”

2. Have students create a traditional bibliography page in Google Drive and include a link to it on their project. This will increase the likelihood that students will explore sources and evaluate projects at a deeper level. The same could be done with Evernote or a shared document in Dropbox.

3. For traditional paper projects, science fair projects, posters, mobiles or other display work, have the students provide a shortened URL to let others find and explore their works cited as they view the product. This will also work for electronic work such as Prezis, Glogsters, Popplets, Google Presentations or online videos. Shortnened URLs can be created at tinyurl.com or by using chrome extensions such as goo.gl URL shortener.

3. In place of a Tiny URL, use a QR code to link viewers to works cited. QR codes can be created for free using QR Kaywa or QRCode Monkey. QR codes are an image file that can be easily added to online projects, and are equally effective when added to the end of videos.

In our information-rich world, accessing information is a daily activity, making it essential to credit the sources being used. This is no less true in elementary school, high school or college. The “Culture of Creation” that emerges in connected classrooms makes this even more important, and putting it at the forefront of creation will allow for a healthy and necessary evaluation of how classwork is created and the ideas used to do so.


  1. Michele Kirschenbaum

    February 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Citation generators are super helpful as well! EasyBib users can export their bibliographies to email, Google Drive, or MS Word! Additionally, students can share their EasyBib bibliography via URL.

    Thanks for the awesome article that highlights the importance of citing sources! :)

  2. Kate Lewis

    February 20, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I really like the QR code reader idea! Thanks!

  3. Ricky Rutledge (@kiwiprofesor)

    February 21, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Citelighter is great…and I’m not even getting paid! (Only interested in what’s best for my students.)


  4. Heather Edick

    February 24, 2014 at 5:41 am

    I like all of the ideas mentioned in the comments and would like to add Zotero to the list. I’ve used it for many years as a replacement to Endnote and it continues to impress me. It’s easy to capture sources, add information and notes, and create bibliographies from a list of sources.

  5. Tracey Cook

    February 24, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I love the idea of process vs. end product citing. It is also time for scholars to address the need to change citation formats. Often a single web address leads to a secured database, impairing others from consulting the cited source. This defeats the point of using citations. Without being able to track the resources used by students, it is not possible to validate the sources’ credibility and thereby assess the students’ understanding and application of the information. Teachers should review the purpose of citations with students with relevant examples. When teachers advise students to use citation creators, students relinquish their responsibility to cite correctly. The citation creators often cite incorrectly or inadequately, especially when web pages are used.

  6. Western Dave

    February 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Clickable links are okay, but rarely give useful data. They often just take me to a website that has remixed an unsourced image. Increasingly, I’m asking students to provide a text box that identifies the image, artist, author etc. in it’s original form, plus a link to where they found the image. Of course, things that were created online are different, but again, tracing back to first use is important.

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