Sometimes when I sit quietly in a computer lab at school and observe my students, I overhear the most wonderful conversations about learning. Today, as I sat in a corner working quietly, several fifth-grade students came in and sat down to work on essays. Focused on work, they took little note of me.
A delightful conversation ensued when one student asked the other student for help with the name of a country. As soon as I realized that an interesting 21st Century learning conversation was happening, I started typing their dialogue rather than my parent letter.
The two children went online together, searched, made all sorts of comments and decisions about what they saw, discovered a few things that they were not looking for, and finally located the information that they needed. But their searching led to additional questions.
The entire conversation lasted less than two minutes, but they learned a great deal.
Student #1: I am trying to write about the country that broke off from India when India became independent. Do you know its name?
Student #2: I’m not sure. I know it’s right next door.
Student #1: Hummm. Maybe it’s Pakistan? But I’m not sure.
Student #2: Maybe. Let’s go online and find a world map.
Student #1: OK. Are you going to Google it?
Student #2: Yes and look. If we go into Images there are lots of maps.
Even in today’s fast-paced virtual world, these tips never seem to age. Help kids learn to make good choices.
1. Who made the site? Is it from a university or other institution? Is it for-profit or non-profit. Corporate? Look for an “about” link that describes the site.
2. When was the site made and how often is the site updated? Somewhere, usually at top or bottom it should tell. Is this site updated recently? If not this may be a reason to check out another website on your topic.
3. Is it possible to contact the webmaster or the sponsor of the site? Is there a “contact us” link somewhere on the page?
4. How much advertising is on the page, and how aggressive is it? Good sites that use advertising are careful to keep it from being “in your face.”
5. Does the site state its mission? Why was it set up?
Common Sense Media recently published a solid piece aimed at helping parents and kids refine and strengthen digital research skills.
Teach Your Kids the Secrets of Smart Web Searchingfocuses on good research practices, with tips on how to search effectively and and explanations about why it matters. This piece can help parents stay front and center, guiding their kids (and themselves) on the road to becoming stronger digital information consumers.
Also included are a few Google tips — ideas that can help Google work for the learner rather than the other way around.
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 Projectat 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.