College students and google

In what should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who’s ever taught a college class, students have absolutely no idea how to use search engines to conduct research (much less an idea of the fact that they shouldn’t be using google in the first place when searching a specific topic).  Via Yahoo:

Researchers with the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries project watched 30 students at Illinois Wesleyan University try to search for different topics online and found that only seven of them were able to conduct “what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search.”…

The researchers found that students did not know “how to build a search to narrow or expand results, how to use subject headings, and how various search engines (including Google) organize and display results.” That means that some students didn’t understand how to search only for news articles, or only for scholarly articles. Most only know how to punch in keywords and hope for the best.

Asher told The Lookout that “extremely few students could describe how Google works in conceptual terms with any degree of accuracy.” One sophomore in Biology told him: “I have no idea [how Google determines search results].  I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources.”

Not at all surprised.  It is absolutely amazing and depressing how often students end up citing marginally relevant and totally peripheral articles all because for some reason they came up high on google.  Typically, if I have an assignment where students are supposed to analyze a House campaign, they might just have 3 or 4 articles with titles like, “Rep Johnson presents $5 million check to local law enforcement” and be totally lacking in any larger strategic overviews of the race.  Some day I’m actually going to spend some real time in class on this stuff.  I feel like this should be someone else’s job (High School?  Freshman composition?) but many of them clearly aren’t getting it.

Teachers, Unions, Poverty, oh my

So, in a recent post where I tried to throw a lot of stuff out there, this bit about schools drew several comments:

  • Meta quote of the day.  I actually like Kevin Drum’s quote in response to Felix Salmon, better than Salmon’s:

As a general rule, anybody who thinks that anything about education reform is “simple and obvious” is wrong. (Salmon)

Words of wisdom. It’s not unions, it’s not teachers, it’s not the curriculum, it’s not funding, it’s not charter schools, it’s not poverty, it’s not testing, and it’s not poor parenting. It’s all those things. Anyone who gets too obsessed with only one or two pieces of the ed system is just guaranteeing that they’ll never understand what’s going on. (Drum)

In comments, John F insists its the poverty.  Mike B says, no, it’s not.  My turn.  They’re both right, but here’s my take.   Yes, it is the poverty more than anything else, but, we are talking about education policy.  Sure, alleviating concentrated poverty might very well be the single most effective way to improve education, but in the real world that’s simply never going to be feasible as education policy.  I would argue, that with education policy, we should do what we can to make our schools as good as possible, given that in many cases we are dealing with a lot of impoverished students.  In that case, education-wise, I think the evidence suggests the single most important thing we can do in the purview of education policy is to improve teacher quality.  As for as Steven Brill’s take goes (I’ve now read his Reuters essay and listened to a Dianne Rehm interview) I definitely strongly agree that we need to treat teachers more as professionals.  Quality teaching should be rewarded and poor teaching should lead to termination.  Sadly, that’s currently all-too-often not the case.  This also fits fairly well with the Gladwell take on teaching with regular readers are tired of me mentioning.  It should definitely be way easier to fire bad teachers and surely be easier to assess and reward the best teachers.  We should stop rewarding teachers for credentials that contribute nothing to better teaching.  That said, I think you could completely eliminate teacher’s unions and we’d still have a lot of the same problems.

When you get down to it, I really think that there’s some common-sense, empirically-based ideas that most of us who really care about this issue could probably agree upon.  We really need to pay good teachers more, do whatever it takes to make teaching a more attractive profession to high-quality college grads (see Finland and Korea), take the lessons we can from charter schools that are scalable and really work, while realizing that charter schools are definitely no panacea.   Can’t we all agree on that regardless of how central we thing poverty is to the overall state of education?  Maybe we could even agree that, to the degree that it’s possible, education policy should work to address they ways in which poverty specifically undermines student performance.

[That was more original thought than you get for a blog post.  Enjoy it– I’m off to Portland, Maine  ahead of Irene to attend a wedding.]

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