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.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to College students and google

  1. Apparently they don’t event know how to search for something on any given page either:

  2. Kim says:

    If you want them to know it, it is your job to help them learn it. 🙂

  3. Kim says:

    I will be curious to see what David learns in his 6th grade class on computers. Hope he will learn about crtl + f

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