“Did he seriously just ask that? How old is this guy?” Well yes, I recently seriously just asked a group of students if they knew how to search Google. And yes, the students got a good laugh from my question.

“Of course I know how to use Google,” I have been told by every student to whom I have asked the question.

“Really? Let’s see. This won’t take long,” I promise.

The truth is that every student can use Google on some level. What is interesting to me is that when I interview students about their search strategies and I ask them if they have ever asked their teachers for help with a search the answer is almost always, “No”. What if our students are overconfident about their search skills?

If you watch your students use Google you will probably observe that most begin their search by simply typing the title of the assignment verbatim into Google (i.e., Iranian Hostage Crisis). They do this partly because this technique can yield satisfying answers to basic questions, and because in many cases they haven’t been explicitly taught to do anything else. It is the easy way out that does not require much in the way of critical thinking.

After their results pop up, most students will look only at the first screen of results, believing that those top hits contain everything they will need to complete their assignment. In many ways, this response is natural — it’s quick and easy. If they do not find what they are looking for within three tries they will likely give up and assume that Google cannot fulfill their request.

But what happens when a meaningful search requires more thinking than simply typing in the assignment?

Next page: Expert Google search strategies