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On Why Johnny Can’t Search (with shout-outs to Francey & Buffy!)

'Search-Engine-Marketing' photo (c) 2007, Danard Vincente - license: month Clive Thompson addressed Why Johnny Can’t Search in November’s Wired.  He also pointed to the importance of librarians teaching Johnny critical search skills.

Thompson reported on research conducted by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan, designed to assess college students’ search skills. Pan and his team found that the students generally relied on the first results that appeared on the top of a Google result list, even when the researchers secretly created falsely top-ranked pages.  The researchers concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit—they’re putting too much trust in the machine.

Thompson notes that several studies point to the issue that high school and college digital natives are really wretched at searching.  They are not in the habit of thinking critically about information. The do not assess the credibility of their sources.

And he celebrates the importance of the instruction of my/our friends, Francey and Buffy!

Consider the efforts of Frances Harris, librarian at the magnet University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois. (Librarians are our national leaders in this fight; they’re the main ones trying to teach search skills to kids today.) [My emphasis.] Harris educates eighth and ninth graders in how to format nuanced queries using Boolean logic and advanced settings. She steers them away from raw Google searches and has them use academic and news databases, too.

But, crucially, she also trains students to assess the credibility of what they find online. For example, she teaches them to analyze the tone of a web page to judge whether it was created by an academic, an advocacy group, or a hobbyist. Students quickly gain the ability to detect if a top-ranked page about Martin Luther King Jr. was actually posted by white supremacists.

“I see them start to get really paranoid,” Harris says. “The big thing in assessing search results is authorship—who put it there and why have they put it there?” Or, as pioneering librarian Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School near Atlanta says, “This is learning how to learn.”

This mainstream article emphasizes the importance of explicit instruction in information skills for growing effective knowledge citizens.  It emphasizes the importance of our daily efforts.

You may want to share it with administrators and teachers.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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