Has the Internet changed the way students conduct research? Yes, and not always for the better, reports to a study released last week by the Pew Research Center, “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World.” According to a survey of more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers, “research” for today’s students means “Googling,” and as a result, doing research “has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.”

While teachers in the survey acknowledge the benefits of the web for students—great depth and breadth of information, material presented in engaging multimedia formats, and the opportunity to become self-directed and self-reliant researchers—many of them express concern that easily-distracted students with short attention spans are not developing the skills required to do deep, original research.

From the report: “Some 77% of advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers surveyed say that the internet and digital search tools have had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on their students’ research work. At the same time, 76% of teachers surveyed ‘strongly agree’ with the assertion that internet search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able to find information quickly and easily.”

Here are a few ways teachers, parents and others can help students go beyond Google.

PROMOTE DIGITAL LITERACY — AND TRADITIONAL LITERACY, TOO. In the Pew survey, a majority of teachers agreed that “today’s technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.” Instruction in digital literacy techniquescan show students how to

determine whether an online reference is legitimate and how to check its claims against other sources. But what students really need to navigate the inaccuracies and flat-out falsehoods so common on the web is a store of knowledge saved on the original hard drive: their own minds. Students must possess abundant factual knowledge in order to evaluate what they encounter on the web, and the best way to acquire content knowledge is still reading nonfiction books.

ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO FACT-FIND FACE-TO-FACE. Young people who’ve grown up in the digital age often have the impression that everything anyone needs to know is located somewhere on the web—so devise assignments that show them it isn’t so. Ask them to find a book in the library that hasn’t yet been scanned by Google Books; require them to consult with a research librarian, who will give them a sense of how many and varied non-digital resources are available; have them conduct an oral history project, collecting stories from living people that can’t be found on a website.

GUIDE THEM TO SEARCH DEEPER.The Internet is not the enemy of careful research; after all, historians, scientists and other experts rely heavily on the web in their work. But they’re using their computers to access in-depth resources like online databases and academic journals—not only Yahoo and Wikipedia. Make sure students know that the results turned up by a search engine are only the topmost layer of information about their subject: from there, they’ve got to do a lot of digging. Google isn’t the end of their search, in other words—it’s just the beginning.


Why “Googling It” Is Not Enough 1 December,2016Annie Murphy Paul

  • Paul

    I love MindShift – I don’t care for this article, however.

    Argument: In the article above, a teacher was quoted as saying, “doing research ‘has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.’”

    Response: Just like me, my students research just long enough until they achieve the satisfaction they were looking for, until their thirst for knowledge is quenched. They don’t need to research further – Lord knows I stop when I find the answer I seek! If they are researching just to “complete an assignment” and aren’t actually interested in the work, then the teacher has not hooked her students and needs to work on that, not the students’ research skills.

    Argument: It goes on to say, “many of them [teachers] express concern that easily-distracted students with short attention spans are not developing the skills required to do deep, original research.”

    Response: Students with attention issues (ADD or not) need additional support and assistance in order to be successful in most areas of learning that are new. It sounds as though these teachers may not understand the scaffolding and support that needs to be done to support students with special needs. Are they teaching these “deep, original research skills” explicitly in a manner in which the students understand and appreciate? Are the expectations clearly understood by each student?

    Argument: This statement is being used as an argument why “Googling it is not enough,” but sure seems like a positive thing to me, “76% of teachers surveyed ‘strongly agree’ with the assertion that
    internet search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able
    to find information quickly and easily.”

    Response: I love that my students go straight to an iPad or computer to find answers to their questions while we learn in class instead of coming straight to me! If I saw them go to the encyclopedias or the non-fiction books in my library during a novel group to look up what the concept of “global climate change” means, I would wonder why they didn’t Google it! I guarantee that my 5th graders will learn more in 4 minutes online than they will trying to use any static resources in the classroom! I would also argue that my students would learn more in 4 hours Googling things online than they would using the books and other resources in my classroom. They have learned how to filter unreliable websites and disregard sites from non-credible sources. I sure know that it’s a heck of a lot more up-to-date than any print resource!

    Bottom line – The internet provides me with everything research-related that I need to know, and I want my students accessing information quickly and painlessly like me so that they become the information seekers and lifelong learners that I work so hard to help them become.

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  • Thank you for this powerful article about ‘Googling’ and the research process! I could not agree more that this ‘process’ of conducting research and the learning process have often become short-term, fast-paced exercises with 21st Century technologies. It is essential that we help students to ‘map out’ and plan these processes, to enable students to visualize the process, and learn valuable transferable skills for other learning tasks throughout life. The technologies change, but the basic learning processes stay the same, lets educate our students about them!

    Thank you again!

    Deborah McCallum

    • LKL

      While I agree with the general premise of this article, I think it’s also important to remember that unreliable sources are not limited to the internet. Granted, there is much more unreliable information on the internet than in other sources, but I think there is value in teaching students critical thinking and research skills for all sources, including print, interviews etc. as well as digital sources. Something else that needs to be addressed is copyright, plagiarism and proper use of citations.

  • Lesley Johnson

    Ms. Paul, this is a timely topic and something all educators should be thinking about. As a 9th grade English teacher, I always have to explain to students why Googling something should be, as you said, the beginning of their research process. Digital literacy isn’t in our curriculum yet, but I do believe it will be part of it soon. In fact, it may become the most important part of the curricula at schools because it’s something students will have to use in the future. Being able to identify reliable sources is going to be a valuable skill, especially as the amount of information continues to grow online.

    I appreciate the steps you have suggested to encourage students to find reliable information, especially the “fact-find face-to-face” part. I think that’s actually part of the reason students use Google–it’s easier than actually talking to someone. (Isn’t that why texting is so popular?) There’s an element of instant gratification and ease to using Google, but challenging students to use their local or school librarian could be an eye-opening experience. I think students would be surprised that getting help from a librarian is quite easy. Plus, it may actually be faster to find reliable sources that way.

    Nevertheless, Google is here to stay and I doubt its popularity will wane anytime soon. Likewise, I’m sure Wikipedia will remain a favorite site for my students; however, my former Educational Psychology professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, Dr. Mona Ibrahim, is part of a the Association for Psychological Science’s project to improve the reliability of the information related to psychology found on Wikipedia. Dr. Ibrahim had her students publish papers regarding various psychological topics on Wikipedia. The students’ papers went through an extensive review process before they could be published, so the students’ and Dr. Ibrahim’s respect for Wikipedia grew as they learned how to contribute trustworthy information to the web. (The complete article about Dr. Ibrahim’s project can be found here: http://www.cord.edu/Magazine/2012/spring/feature/feature7.php.)

    Perhaps the other part of the puzzle to helping students understand why “‘Googling it’ is not enough” is having students contribute reliable information on the web so that they better understand what happens during good, thorough research and what the final product should look like. Fighting against the ease of the internet and current technology is futile; however, learning how to use it responsibly and how to recognize reliable information is necessary. With the steps listed above and the opportunity to contribute trustworthy information on the web, I believe all students would be more digitally literate and digitally responsible.

  • Mark

    I think this says we need to teach better online research skills, not return to books. Online I can quickly cross reference my research and get verification in seconds from multiple sources rather than just one. Personal interviews are fabulous and to augment that with digital research to put those stories in historical context would be awesome. If there is a particular book that is not online and the information contained therein is found no where else, then that should be used if relevant. But I would posit that will be a rare case becoming more rare with each passing day. Take legal and medical research, those are done almost exclusively in a digital format. The possibility of missing something searching books is too great, and yes they can find the information much quicker and more easily at the same time, which I think is a good thing. More time to spend analyzing the information critically, less time finding it.

  • Great article about the reality of research in the digital age. The root of the problem is the lack of proper research skills when using Google and thinking the Internet is the last stop when it comes to research. Take a look at this infographic and think about how many times you have made some of the mistakes pointed out here. http://pinterest.com/pin/212021094928431576/

  • I agree wholeheartedly. But it goes beyond just Google I believe. Schools have long been shortcutting thought by giving out and expecting back simple facts with no long term thinking involved. Our experience (running training courses) is of having to actually encourage and help students think for themselves whilst studying; until now they have never had the need to this.

    A conspiracy theorist might suggest that it’s all about keeping people quiet – students who can’t think for themselves aren’t going to question too much the world around them and the decisions being made by their leaders. I don’t think I’d go that far, but it isn’t doing the politicians any harm having a nation of people who don’t question anything they read or are told!

  • Steve

    Not only is Google the first (and only perhaps) stop for students, I would submit that they often do not look beyond the first 3-4 hits on the first page of Google results. Maybe the solution is teaching kids how to use Google. When I was completing my dissertation, I used EBSCOhost to find journal articles, but I also used Google Scholar. Sorting through information and culling out the worthless is the trick.
    Just my thoughts,

  • Amelia Rojas

    Googling is definitely not enough and students should consider the source prior to citing any Internet site…It is important to remember that just because it is on the Internet and on a website or blog, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is accurate, reliable or trustworthy. Students don’t forget to do your own due diligence.

  • Sonya

    This article is just like what you were talking about last time…about how students have to look beyond the first thing that Google lists…as some sources pay to be the first on
    a search. Buyer beware.!! Sonya Stejskal

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  • Amy b

    By all means let them google. But teach them how to decode BS when they see it. I took an entire college course dedicated to recognizing and decoding BS from internet sites, politics, historical conversation and even media (like the news), all give us a crap ton of BS on a regular basis. If students know how to recognize it (and I mean really KNOW on a formal level) it will open the door to criticle thinking and intilectual growth. I wish this skill would have been instructed to me long before I got to college.

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