In January 2010, Dulcinea Media created a survey to assess the online research skills of middle school and high school students in New York State. With the help of several school librarians and classroom teachers, we surveyed 300 students at nine schools about their research habits. After analyzing our results, we published our report on the findings and implications of our study. Download StudyStudentsOnlineResearch
The majority of students in our study have access to computers at school and at home. Three-quarters of those surveyed self-describe as “excellent” or “very good” at search. Nevertheless, most middle school and high school students cannot adequately explain their search strategies, or how they evaluate a website’s credibility.
At the middle school level, when querying a search engine, more than half of these students use “natural language” instead of keywords. It appears likely that many simply copy the question or problem assigned by their teachers into a search engine’s search box. When initial search results are unavailing, both middle school and high school students simply “keep trying” or “re-word” their queries, but they cannot adequately explain their methods for doing so.
When they do locate a source they deem useful, roughly one-third of middle school students report choosing it because it “looked good,” “sounded good,” or has “the correct information.” One middle school student’s approach to assessing information boiled down to, “if it’s what my teacher told me to find.” In other words, once students find “the answer” they seek, they spend little effort considering the credibility of a resource.
When we asked students how often they evaluate the author of a document or website, or the date it was published, the majority of respondents answered “rarely or never.” In the comment box, one student notes, “It doesn’t really matter who the writer is.” As for the date an article was published, another student writes, “I can’t find it.”
Our survey suggests that students’ Internet research skills are far from adequate. All students must learn how to construct a query and evaluate the results, how search engines function and how to develop consistent habits or workarounds in response to poor result listings. Acquiring sound search strategies as well as critical evaluations skills while they are still in school will better prepare these students for college and their future careers.
In Summer 2011, Dulcinea Media will introduce the SweetSearch Web Research Tutorial, a comprehensive, multimedia approach to teaching students, and educators, how to use the Web to conduct research effectively.