If you enjoy this post, check out my August 2010 post about using online databases, Staying Ahead With Online Resources, about online data.
The next time you watch your child begin a web search for a school project or other academic activity, take a few minutes to observe more closely how he or she selects web resources. In Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content (this abstract site leads to a free PDF of the article), professor Eszter Hargittai and colleagues form the Web Use Project at Northwestern University, describe how students tend to place huge amounts of trust in the initial hits retrieved by search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
With first year students in a required writing course at the University of Illinois Chicago (chosen because of its highly diverse student body) researchers conducted a written survey of 1060 students enrolled in the classes. Next researchers selected a stratified random sample of 192 students to observe in person as each student performed 12 specific web-based tasks. Learn more about a stratified random sample.
- To complete a web-based task, students usually went to a search engine.
- After search engines presented links, students tended to follow the first few links, apparently assuming that the first links in a search were reliable resources to pursue.
- When they looked at a list of provided links, some had difficulty knowing the difference between regular links and sponsored links.
- As they followed these links, students did not appear concerned about who authored the sites that they found (only 10 percent of the students commented about a site’s authors or the credentials presented).
- To complete tasks students relied on brand names, and corporate brands dominated.
- SparkNotes, an online version of Cliff Notes, dominated.
- For credible sources many students favored .gov and .edu sites as more credible sites.
- Many expressed trust in .org, because they are all not-for-profit sites, although these days just about anyone can get a .org web address.
- To verify information, less than half of the observed students consulted a second website.