Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I've Known This For A Long Time

I'm glad this issue is finally getting more recognition--because it needs more:
The members of the generation that is sometimes dubbed the "millennials" are alternately reviled or lauded by the news media for their tech-savvy, gadget-loving ways. But a new ethnographic research project on students in five Illinois universities may put a dent in that reputation. It found that many college kids don't even know how to perform a simple internet search.

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 students "appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school," Lynda Duke and Andrew Asher write in a book on the project coming out this fall.

I remember learning in high school what was considered an authoritative source vice a non-authoritative source; how do students learn that today, when a search engine just lists hundreds or thousands of web sites?

Update: Here are some vetted links provided by a college librarian:
Search guides and handouts in PDF form ( these are basic instructions on various research techniques. Many of them are for the databases we subscribe to, which non-students can't access, but other libraries offer the same services and subscriptions. Note that this page also contains "pathfinders" on common research topics. Here's the PDF on evaluating websites for reliability: That's probably the one that answers your question. Examples I often use in class are googling "Antarctica culture" (which often gets you a fun fictional site) or, to demonstrate the dangers of trusting .org, you can go to is owned by Stormfront. That usually gets their attention. Less horrifying is the site on the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. :)

Online tutorials, in video or HTML ( Most of these are specific to our college, but there are some on general research skills or paper-writing too.

A learning module on writing a research paper ( This is a 10-chapter tutorial that includes the main skills, including evaluating sources, not plagiarizing, and whatnot.

You can poke around the "Student Learning Resources" section, but I think I put everything relevant here. We make a big effort to help students learn these skills, but I don't know that many of them utilize the amazing resources available at our college and all over the place. The University of Washington has an excellent Research 101 program online for general use: And we frequently recommend Purdue's OWL Online Writing Lab for help with citations and so on:


Anonymous said...

I've always thought that "tech-savvy" was a misnomer. Most people are tech-savvy in the same way that being able to fill your own gas tank makes you a gear-head.

Being able to text, post to FB, take a picture with your phone, and repost a tweet is NOT being tech savvy. It's merely being able to use a tool to do a simple task. In same way, knowing how to use a hammer does not make one a carpenter.

Tech-savvy people know how to drop into HTML if necessary, use command line code to rip a CD into .flac, and write a VB macro in Excel. Most "tech-savvy" people are doing the equivalent of taking their car to Jiffy-Lube to change the oil while the rest of us actually know how to crawl under the car and remove the oil pan plug.

Seriously. Ask one of these "tech savvy" people to troubleshoot a computer problem or any other problem that requires even a basic systematic approach. They can't do it.

Jean said...

Here's an interesting related article: College students rarely use librarians' expertise. This really is what we (librarians) are here for, so please spread the word--when in doubt, ask your friendly neighborhood librarian!