Friday, October 15, 2010

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Searching For Better Research Habits
[September 29, 2010, from Inside Higher Ed via Library Link of the Day]

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Educators who see the popular search engine as antithetical to good research might cringe at the thought of endorsing it to students. But they might not cringe nearly as hard as did attendees of the 2010 Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship Conference when Andrew Asher showed them what happens when students do not learn how to use Google properly. “Students do not have adequate information literacy skills when they come to college, and this goes for even high-achieving students,” said Asher, the lead research anthropologist at the Enthographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project, which recently studied the search habits of more than 600 Illinois students spanning a range of institutions and demographic groups.

Asher moved swiftly through a few slides featuring excerpts from interviews with students, each eliciting both chuckles and gasps from the audience of librarians and technologists. “I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources,” responded one sophomore biology student.

“Of all the students that I interviewed, not a single one of them could give an adequate conceptual definition of how Google returns results,” said Asher. Not even those “who should know better,” like computer science students. The word “magic” came up a lot, he noted.

Asher pulled quotes from other students evidencing how the expectations and ignorances bred by habitual, unthinking use of Google had affected how students use other search engines, such as those built into the scholarly archive JSTOR. The students in the ERIAL sample seemed oblivious to the logic of search or how to generate or parse search results with much patience or intelligence. “I just throw up whatever I want into the search box and hope it comes up,” a junior nursing major told the researchers. “…It’s just like Google, so I use it like Google.”

This Google effect does not bode well for students who manage to make it as far as a scholarly database, said Asher. “Student overuse of simple search leads to problems of having too much information or not enough information … both stemming from a lack of sufficient conceptual understanding of how information is organized,” he said. Those libraries that have tried to teach good search principles have failed, he continued, because they have spent “too much time trying to teach tools and not enough time trying to teach concepts.” It would be more useful for librarians to focus training sessions on how to "critically think through how to construct a strategy for finding information about a topic that is unknown to you," Asher said in a follow-up e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

[click on the link for the rest of the story....]

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