Teaching Examples

Search skills: Not as good as we thought
March 28, 2006, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times (March 26), Edward Tenner asks whether Google and other search engines are making today’s students stupid.

We see this all the time among university undergraduates — they know how to use a search engine, but they don’t know how to use it WELL.

“Many students seem to lack the skills to structure their searches so they can find useful information quickly. In 2002, graduate students at Tel Aviv University were asked to find on the Web, with no time limit, a picture of the Mona Lisa; the complete text of either ‘Robinson Crusoe’ or ‘David Copperfield’; and a recipe for apple pie accompanied by a photograph. Only 15 percent succeeded at all three assignments.”

Recognizing the problem, what are educators going to do about it? I think one answer might be to have competitions in the classroom — or maybe during a live online chat — to demonstrate how choosing and combining search terms wisely will produce better search results.

But part of the problem may go back to earlier training, in high school and even the early grades. Students as young as 7 and 8 years old are using search engines in school and to complete homework assignments — but what kind of feedback and criticism are they receiving on the quality of their results?

I have undergrads who can compile a big collection of facts, names and dates and stuff them into a class presentation, but their evaluative skills leave a lot to be desired. They omit key parts of the story and include trivia that would be better left out.

I think this goes beyond Tenner’s complaint in his Op-Ed: Students not only do not know how to search effectively; they also lack the skills to judge whether their search was truly successful.

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2 Comments so far
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Schools should really be having classes for this. If the internet is truly going to be our place of academic research than they need to know boolean searching and how to figure out a page’s credibility. This is something I think even my college is still lax on.

Comment by Bigredbarbie

It ain’t just students. I know some journalists who could use similar instruction. (It helps that I’m in the business.)

Comment by Lex

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