Just recently, in a post here on NovaNews: 10 skills every student should learn, I blogged about the importance of students being taught Information Literacy skills:
Being able to fluently use technology is different to knowing how to manipulate the technology to locate information sought. In other words, using Google as a search engine is common practice. But understanding and learning how to use Google as a search tool needs to be taught in our schools. Being able to evaluate hits returned, to weigh up both their relevancy and reliability, require critical thinking skills that also must be taught. As I mentioned in a previous post on NovaNews, Google can’t replace learning. Assuming that our Digital Natives know it all, is incorrect. Just recently the website Boing Boing blogged on this very topic: “Digital Natives” need help understanding search.
So when a friend – thanks Nikki – sent me a post by Clive Thompson writing in a recent online issue of Wired – Why kids can’t search – I was not in the least surprised to read his take on this important, basic issue.
Commenting that the question has shifted from ‘Why Johnny can’t read?” to “Why Johnny can’t search?” supports much of what is happening today in our schools. Just watch a group of students tackling a research topic. Unless directed otherwise, they go straight to Google and usually focus only on the first half a dozen or so hits. Tech savvy or not, it is clear that these digital natives are not evaluting either the source or the content of webpages returned by Google. They instead naively ‘assume’ these hits to be authentic simply because Google lists them.
I’m sure that Thompson’s words brought a smile to many a face of a Librarian and Teacher Librarian when he said:
Librarians are our national leaders in this fight; they’re the main ones trying to teach search skills to kids today.”
Oh how refreshing it is to have someone like this advocate for us. If we can’t do it ourselves, Teacher Librarians, as a professional group, need to gather more academics like Thompson to be in the cheer squad that advocates loud and clear our skills set and our Raison d’être.
So what is it that our students need to conquer to be able and capable searchers? I suspect that these ten points are just the tip of the iceberg:
- Awareness: Google is only one of many different search engines that can be used to locate information.
- Brainstorm: Thinking about what it is you want to find in an online search before starting to search is a key to a successful search.
- Learn: Selecting good keywords and/or wording a query well is half the battle of getting a good search result. Boolean logic is powerful.
- Sift: Sort through facts to be sure returned hits really respond to the search query.
- Consider: Look critially at the content and tone of a webpage. Is it biased? Cross reference information found. Can it be backed up by other sources?
- Question: Don’t believe everything you read. Seek out other sources and opinions.
- Check: Authenticate the authorship of a webpage. Don’t assume that the name of a person or organization listed on a webpage is legit.
- Acknoweldge: Fact filled websites should cite sources and/or include a bibliography for further reference.
- Understand: The structure of a URL is important in judgng the validity and authenticity of a website. Learn the meaning of tags such as org and edu.
- Determine: The currency of a website is a key to knowing whether its information is reliable. Locate the date of its latest update.