Rethinking research in the Google era

Ninety-three percent of college students are satisfied with their overall experience in using a search engine, and they still use the library, according to the study–but they are using it less (and reading less) since they first began using internet research tools.

Although the study notes that horizontal searching and “power browsing” aren’t confined to young internet users, its findings–and general observations about students’ internet behavior–have led to some serious reflection on the part of educators.

Carla Wade, technology education specialist at the Oregon Department of Education, believes skimming and scanning are important study skills that students learned even before the Google era. “Textbooks, periodicals, and even phone books are designed to allow for skimming and scanning to help point readers to the information they seek. Once we identify the valid source, we do the in-depth reading,” she said.

Wade said she asked her daughter, Kelly, how she researches online.

Kelly explained that she starts with Wikipedia–a resource students typically aren’t allowed to cite, because it might not be a reliable source–and looks at the resources listed to identify other sources that might be reliable and valid. She then goes to those sites and compares them. After skimming and comparing, she uses her knowledge of how to identify a valid source to choose those sources that she would be able to use for her project. Then, she reads those articles in depth.

Kelly compares her process to the “old” way of researching her mom had to use: “When you went to the library, mom, you had to look through encyclopedias, books, and magazines to find what they might have at your schools. Today, I can look at those things, but by using the internet, I can find a lot more information. One source leads me to another, and that article leads me to three others. If the articles or sources are not linked, I just Google them. I can learn because I have access to tons more information than you had available in your library–back in your day.”

The pain of hearing how “old” she was notwithstanding, Wade believes that by bouncing from one article to another and then comparing them, Kelly is using critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making, and analysis skills.

Jim Bosco, professor emeritus at Western Michigan University, says there has “always been the concern that with new technology comes hell. It began with Socrates being concerned that writing had a horrible effect on learning, because up until that point all learning was done through oral tradition. It’s continued with printing and then television. It’s a reoccurring trend throughout history.”

Meris Stansbury

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