Rethinking research in the Google era


Though he admits there’s some truth to the idea that with newer traditions, something is lost from the old traditions, “that’s just the way progress works,” he said.

Bosco also agrees that scanning and skimming are nothing new for students.

“If people think it’s only the students now, [who] have access to the internet, who skim over information and write papers that are just a collage of quotes and material pulled from other articles, they’re wrong,” he said. “As a teacher who’s old enough to have reviewed papers both before and after the internet, let me tell you: Students in the past used to write papers in the same way. There will always be students who write papers where it’s obvious they have no deep understanding of the material. It’s not a new phenomenon–it’s just better automated now.”

For many educators, skimming and scanning are not bad habits–unless they’re the only habits students are using when researching.

According to the British Library’s report, a common misconception of the “Google generation” is that they are naturally information literate.

Says the study: “The information literacy of young people has not improved with the widening access to technology. … Young people sometimes have a poor understanding of their information needs and thus find it difficult to develop effective search strategies. Faced with a long list of search hits, young people find it hard to assess the relevance of the materials presented and often print off pages with no more than a perfunctory glance.”

The study also adds there is little evidence to suggest that students’ information literacy is any better or worse than before.

To help students learn how to search the internet successfully, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has developed “Standards for the 21st Century Learner.” (See “School libraries try to do more with less.”) The State Educational Technology Directors Association also has a media literacy toolkit that aligns with state standards.

But to help students learn not only how to navigate the internet successfully, but also to know how to read in depth, educators says it’s up to them to design helpful homework assignments and projects.

“Librarians and teachers working as a collaborative team can design lessons that require and encourage in-depth reading and learning,” said Linda Corey, library media coordinator for the Blue Valley Schools in Overland Park, Kan.

Meris Stansbury

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