The importance of Internet skills cannot be underestimated and this article introduces two free JISC services, the Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) and the RDN Virtual Training Suite. They are easy to use and provide structured access to the Internet. Both offer specific services for economics. It is vital to teach students e-literacy early on and the RDN Virtual Training Suite is recommended, specifically the Internet Economist tutorial. Students are shown key sites for economists, how to search the Internet, how to evaluate sites and how to reflect on this knowledge. The article then describes SOSIG, with its directory of over 28,000 quality Web sites, hand-picked by subject experts throughout the UK. Examples of popular economics topics are considered (macroeconomics, European economics) and practical ways of accessing such materials on SOSIG are suggested. User are encouraged to contact SOSIG with feedback and suggestions.
The internet is now as important a resource as the traditional library for economics students, but many still lack good internet skills. The Quality Assurance Agency, in its subject benchmark statements, lists the following general skills as an essential part of the undergraduate curriculum:
For more information, see http://www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/economics.html.
This article can help with these vital skills, by showing practical ways of teaching e-literacy and helping students to locate quality web resources. We introduce the Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) and the RDN Virtual Training Suite (VTS), two JISC services that are free to UK users.
SOSIG staff work with lecturers and librarians around the UK and their feedback indicates that most students still rely heavily on Google for finding websites. With the growing importance of the web, it is essential that it is used more effectively, or students may choose poor-quality sites or miss more valuable resources altogether.
What’s the answer? We suggest that by using these two free national services, you can easily teach internet skills and point students to a reliable directory of websites for their work.
SOSIG (the Social Science Information Gateway) is a free, national internet information service jointly funded by JISC and the ESRC. It offers a guide to the best of the web for social science education and research in the UK, and is aimed at students, lecturers and researchers in UK higher education. It consists of a directory of over 28,000 quality websites, hand-picked by subject experts throughout the UK. Each site has a short description and key words. The Economics gateway is just one subject section of SOSIG, others include Politics, Business and European Studies.
The VTS is an e-literacy tool, a range of tutorials on the web which can help students develop their internet information literacy. It offers 61 online tutorials, teaching internet literacy for most of the subjects taught in UK higher and further education. The Internet Economist tutorial is aimed at economics for higher education:
It is vital that students learn good internet skills at the start of their courses; then they can move on to independently searching and browsing the web. Our experience shows that the best method is to integrate training into library inductions or classes taught by lecturers. Why not ask your students to work through the economics tutorial and then ask them to critically review a set of websites using the skills they have learnt?
Now your students have some basic internet skills and you have set assignments. How can they find the best resources for their work?
We recommend that educators familiarise themselves first with SOSIG, before introducing students. The site is simple, and it doesn’t take long to learn how to use it. The Help pages offer good introductions and some training materials.
SOSIG sites are divided into these resource types – each type can be browsed or searched separately:
According to feedback from our user community, two common areas that economics students search for are:
How can they use SOSIG to find the best resources, either explanations of theories or actual data on countries?
They can start with a simple search on the SOSIG Economics gateway at
A search using the keyword ‘inflation’ currently will produce 49 hits of sites listed on SOSIG. This will lead to official sites that explain policy or offer recent data, such as the Bank of England, the consumer prices index or international sites like the IMF. There are also more critical sites, such as the BBC, which ask questions relating to inflation, such as ‘Why are oil prices so high?’ These can form a basis for discussions, either via a VLE or in tutor groups. Other searches can be done, such as ‘unemployment’, or for specific countries, such as ‘Japan AND economy’. Using internet skills learnt from the RDN Virtual Training Suite, students should be able to select the most relevant sites from these findings.
Advanced searches can also be done, which filter by type of resource (see below) (e.g. News site, government sites or data) or by section of SOSIG (e.g. Economics, Business or Politics).
Once students get more familiar with SOSIG, they can also browse the sub-sections of the Economics gateway (e.g. Macroeconomics, Economic Growth, or Economics by Region or Country). All these have resources dealing with inflation – its causes and growth, and the specific performance of countries. The site is constantly updated, so new sites are added and outdated ones removed. The main economics sections on SOSIG are:
General Economics Microeconomics Macroeconomics Economic History Economic Development Economics by Region or Country Economic Systems/Theories Financial Economics Environmental Economics International Economics Industry and Commerce Mathematical Economics
Students may need to find materials on European economics, perhaps as part of a joint honours course. The section EU Economics is a good starting point at:
Some good introductory sites, such as the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom, and Key Facts and Figures about the European Union, are listed here. The Eurostat site has some free data suitable for students. The SOSIG EU Economics section now has sub-sections covering more specialist areas (e.g. EU Enlargement and EU Regional Development), where students can find a huge variety of materials – data, debates, organisations and news stories.
If a search does not produce many hits on SOSIG, the Social Science Search Engine can be used – this can be found on the Advanced Search page. This is a separate online database of sites generated from the main internet catalogue, which can be searched. Resources are collected by software called a harvester, rather than by subject experts. Sites are selected from quality sites already catalogued on SOSIG – but note that these other sites have not been reviewed by SOSIG editors. You could also browse other sub-sections of SOSIG, such as Business, Society and the Environment, which offers some interesting sites:
Other examples of ‘hot topic’ materials available on SOSIG are transition economies, economic development and economics by region. We constantly monitor the economics curriculum and talk to lecturers and librarians to keep up to date with students’ needs. Suggestions for new subjects or sites are welcome. You can email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this article we have given a quick flavour of SOSIG and VTS. Using them can help students to attain the key skills recommended by the QAA. While not denying the importance of Google, we aim to broaden students’ appreciation of other web services suitable for research. We regularly meet our users to promote the services and to get feedback. Why not come to one of our workshops, which we run around the UK? Go to the following web page for more information.
The Quality Assurance Agency (2004) Honours Degree Benchmark Statements. Available online from: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/honours.htm .
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