In Google We Trust

GUEST COLUMN | by Angela Maiers

Without a doubt, my 14-year-old daughter can text paragraphs faster and more accurate than I can text one sentence. My 15-year-old son is my go-to person for all my TV, computer, and technology needs. He had all my apps downloaded and ready to go on my iPhone before I knew how to turn it on. Watching my 3-year-old niece navigate her way around the screen confirms what my friend, Chris Lehman, has proclaimed for some time: technology is like oxygen for these kids. Their ease with the web is simply amazing.

Being tech-comfy, however, does not guarantee their proficiencies automatically grow into new and sophisticated literacies or online competencies as info-sumers, critical thinkers, and savvy participants in a digital space. For many youth, their motto seems to be, “In Google We Trust”, or so says a new study coming out of Northwestern University; exploring the savvy web skills (or lack thereof) of college students, especially as it relates to search strategies and ability to determine the credibility of search results.

You can read more about the study here, but the following exchange sums up the overall results:

One of the researchers asked a study participant, “What is this website?” The student answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.” 

The facts are disturbing: Only one quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because—and only because—it was the first search result. Only 10 percent of the students made mention of the site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks. Even the groups considered “most savvy”; none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors.

We perpetuate this trend of digital unpreparedness when we operate under the erroneous assumption that so-called “digital-natives” are ready and equipped for the challenges of the read/write web. It is critical for institutions and organizations to pay attention to a person’s specific skills and literacies rather than submit to the notion that age or generation gives one a free membership pass into this new literacy club.

Preparing students for the web requires more than a course on Powerpoint or a class on search strategies. Web literacy is not just about being able to operate a digital camera or create a podcast, or even the opportunity to connect with another classroom. It’s about looking critically at the content on the Web, understanding how and why that particular media is being used to shape thinking and behavior, and most importantly—having the competency and the confidence to communicate our own ideas and thoughts to this incredible space.

What worries me most is knowing that “media/web” literacy skills in schools, if taught at all, are considered secondary or optional. In a time when students will do most of their reading, writing, and research across digital texts and mediums, I would argue they need these skills more than ever. And, more importantly, they need us to lead them into their digital future.

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Angela Maiers is an award-winning educator, speaker, consultant and professional trainer known for her work in literacy, leadership and global communications. An active blogger and social media evangelist, Angela is deeply committed to helping learners understand the transformational power of technology. Write to: angela@angelamaiers.com

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4 Responses to In Google We Trust

  1. Frank Baker says:

    So many studies out now..confirming what we all suspected…students don’t apply ANY critical thinking/skepticism to their searches. Information literacy must be a teaching priority and not just for the K-12 school librarian, but for the teacher as well. Alongside it–media literacy..already recognized by the K-12 Horizon Report as the #1 critical (unmet) challenge in American education today. We have much more work to do.

  2. Tasra Dawson says:

    Fantastic article. Sending to my teen daughter! Thanks for sharing the research.

  3. Pingback: Why we need to focus on true information literacy skills « thornburgthoughts

  4. dthornburg says:

    This is a topic about which I have been speaking since the 1990′s! I put it in the context of 3 skills for functional literacy today.

    1. How do you find information?
    2. How do you evaluate its relevance?
    3. How do you evaluate its accuracy?

    Students may have the first skill under control, but need guidance on the others. These are skills that, in the past, were the primary domain of librarians. Now we have become our own librarians, but have skipped developing the rest of the essential skills.

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