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Teachers concerned about students’ online research skills

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When asked what skills are essential for students in the future, teachers put judging the quality of information at the top of the list.

Teachers are concerned that students are a little too quick to turn to Google and other internet search engines for answers: That’s one finding of a Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,000 teachers nationwide queried about students’ digital research habits.

“Now, by default, they go online and they search,” said Lee Rainie, director of Pew’s Internet and American Life Project. “In some respects, that simplifies things.”

On the other hand, Rainie said, it means that students are prioritizing that information in a way that might not give them access to all the high-quality and relevant stuff that would be useful.

While 77 percent of the teachers said they believe technology provides an overall benefit—primarily access to more resources—the majority also said online research can be overwhelming, distracting, and make it difficult for students to find credible information.

One teacher said, “They don’t know how to filter out bad information, and they are so used to getting information quickly that when they can’t find what they are looking for immediately, they quit.”

When asked what skills are essential for students in the future, the teachers put judging the quality of information at the top of the list, ahead of writing effectively and behaving responsibly online.

Barbara Theirl, media center specialist at Boeckman Middle School in Farmington, Minn., said teachers talk frequently about how to improve students’ digital literacy.

“I even have some teachers who do not let the youngest students here at the middle school use Google,” Theirl said. “They have to use eBooks. They have to use databases.”

Class research projects include presentations about credible online resources, and demonstrations of the hazards of relying too much on search engines. For instance, a search for “Mankato” turns up a page claiming the temperature in the southern Minnesota city never dips below 70 degrees.

“It’s really important that we teach the kids to be able to find the best and most accurate information, no matter what they’re doing,” Theirl said.

For help in teaching students digital literacy and online research skills, see the following stories from eSchool Media:

Why more schools aren’t teaching web literacy—and how they can start

In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student used the personal website of a professor at Northwestern University, Arthur Butz, as justification for writing a history paper called “The Historic Myth of Concentration Camps.” That student, who we will call Zack, had been encouraged to use the internet for research, but he had not been taught to decode the meaning of the characters in a web address…

Web literacy: Where the Common Core meets common sense

Are you as worried as we are that the overall impact of technology on our children’s ability to solve complex research problems is negative? Have you heard a child near you say, “Just Google it,” when asked to describe the meaning of life?

Ten steps for better media literacy skills

A new white paper from the founder of Temple University’s Media Education Lab gives policy makers and education leaders a detailed plan to boost media literacy skills in their communities…

(c) 2012, the Star Tribune (Minneapolis), with additional reporting from eSchool Media. Visit the Star Tribune online at www.startribune.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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