Research takes more than Google

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2012 - 7:20 PM

Teachers are worried that middle and high school students rely too much on Internet search engines to find information, says a new Pew Center study.

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Oh, the lure of Google. So much information at young scholars' fingertips.

But their teachers are concerned that they are a little too quick to turn to such Internet search engines for answers.

That's one finding of a Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,000 teachers nationwide queried about students' digital research habits.

"Now, by default, they go online and they search," said Lee Rainie, director of Pew's Internet and American Life Project. "In some respects, that simplifies things." On the other hand, Rainie said, it means that students are prioritizing that information in a way that might not give them access to all the high-quality and relevant stuff that would be useful.

While 77 percent of the teachers said they believe technology provides an overall benefit -- primarily access to more resources -- the majority also said online research could be overwhelming, distracting and make it difficult for students to find credible information.

One teacher said, "They don't know how to filter out bad information, and they are so used to getting information quickly that when they can't find what they are looking for immediately, they quit."

When asked what skills are essential for students in the future, the teachers put judging the quality of information at the top of the list, ahead of writing effectively and behaving responsibly online.

Barbara Theirl, media center specialist at Boeckman Middle School in Farmington, said teachers talk frequently about how to improve students' digital literacy.

"I even have some teachers who do not let the youngest students here at the middle school use Google," Theirl said. "They have to use e-books. They have to use databases."

Class research projects include presentations about credible online resources, and demonstrations of the hazards of relying too much on search engines. For instance, a search for "Mankato" turns up a page claiming the temperature in the southern Minnesota city never dips below 70 degrees.

"It's really important that we teach the kids to be able to find the best and most accurate information, no matter what they're doing," Theirl said.

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

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