Students and Online Research

So here I am doing some research for a new project.  I turn on my computer; start typing various key words into Google: and in just a very few minutes I have a raft of articles, video clips, and images ready to use.  It all seems so simple, but is it?  Collecting the information is, but knowing what to do with it, not so much.

I’m an adult who has been trained in how to use information that I find.  I scan it, and if it’s something that I might need to use at all I save it and reread it in depth.  I also need to be able to find creditable sources and cite them.  In school, this meant reading articles and books, taking notes on note cards and keeping a detailed bibliography.  It raises the question for me, do kids still do this?  Or has the Internet so changed things that they don’t’?

I know that people often say to me “the kids know more than me when it comes to technology.”  As far as using devices, I would tend to agree.  They can choose apps and download photos before I’ve pushed the “on” button.  However, I don’t think that they necessarily have the skills needed to make decisions about the material they’ll find on the Internet.  This is where I think teachers will always be necessary.  They need to guide young minds and help them learn how to think and make informed decisions.

We have a few books that I think really help teachers with this phenomenon.  Our Internet Literacy books address this directly with a section called “Researching Reliably.”  There are several lessons about determining the accuracy of the information found online.  You can help students by reminding them to use common sense and ask questions.  Students need to check evidence and find three sources that will back up what they have found.

Much like you might model how to set up your paper or how to work out a math problem, you need to model some of this researching for students.  While the kids might be able to fire up the computer, if all the information they collect is incorrect, it really won’t be much use to them further down the road in life.

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