Your Google-Savvy Classroom
During class, one of your students asks you, “Where was George Washington born?” Unfortunately, you can’t recall the answer, so where do you turn? Google. A few hours later, you’re home watching a movie and can’t seem to name any other films the lead actress has starred in…where do you go? You guessed it—Google. In today’s technology-dependent culture, “Google it” has become an easy way to research solutions to academic problems as well as learn everyday facts—like pop culture tidbits—that you didn’t know before.
Face it, we all use Google at some point in our day. As an educator, you may feel a large amount of responsibility to teach your students efficient online searching habits. With the enormous amount of content floating around in cyberspace, it has become increasingly difficult to determine which sites are credible and which ones aren’t. So the questions arise: (1) Is Google suitable for research purposes? (2) Should I ban my students from using Google for research in the classroom? My answer is yes and no, and here’s why…
I recently came across the article “Why Kids Can’t Search” in Wired Magazine. Author Clive Thompson sites several research studies that indicate students are trusting Google results a little too much1. A recent experiment involving 102 Northwestern undergraduates showed evidence that students neglect to research an author’s credentials. Additionally, a group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan suggests that Google’s top hits serves as a quantitative measure for students’ means of credibility assessment2. The point is that today’s students lack the ability to evaluate the credibility of information across search mediums. Google, however, is not at fault. This is simply an issue of quantity over quality, and I think there is a solution.
While I believe that the findings in these studies may be cause for concern, my fear is that articles like the one from Wired Magazine could influence educators to ban Google from their students’ research toolkit, thereby limiting the resources they have available to them for knowledge and understanding.
A professor of mine once quoted poet William Butler Yates: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In other words, today’s information-hungry students cannot be limited in the scope of their research mediums. Rather, educators should empower students by emphasizing how to search Google for credible content.
Growing up a member of the Millennial Generation has definitely influenced my perspective of information accessibility in the classroom. The teachers that I remember most are the ones who used information hubs like Wikipedia and Google in the classroom. They would explain the process of how they utilized these content engines to find credible authors and sources. The greatest lesson they shared was to always emphasize who before what. I quickly learned to research the contributor before the contribution, or content. These were the educators that inspired and taught me how to compare and contrast credible from non-credible content.
These are not skills that are acquired over night. Therefore, I am offering an iterative approach to teaching your students how to effectively search for authentic content. Below is a baby-step model to teach students of all ages how to assess content across search mediums.
The Crawl, Walk, Run Model for Searching
Crawl: Students need to understand the components of credible content before they can leave this stage. Educators and parents often turn to kid-friendly search engines (see the list at the end of this article) or trusted content providers at this stage. New services that pair powerful search tools along with quality content providers serve as a great foundation for teaching your students about credible sources and research practices. At this stage, your students learn that credibility derives from the author, not the content.
Crawl Phase Action Items
- Share examples of credible and non-credible content.
- Have students utilize credible content search providers.
- Coach your students to research the contributor before the contribution, or who before what.
- Let your students explore and ask questions.
Walk: Your students now understand that the contributor should be researched before the contribution. They recognize that credibility derives from the author. At this point, you should teach your students how to evaluate the author’s expertise and potential bias.
- Here’s a great quiz to give your students to see how well they recognize author credibility: Evaluating Credibility
- Tips for Advanced search features:
- Google Scholar—articles, patents, research studies
- Google Boolean Operators—using (+,-), “and”, “or” in a search query will limit the results. For example, “cell structure” might be narrowed down by entering “cell structure+plan” to find resources related to plant cell structures
- .edu—educational institution
- .org—nonprofit organization
- .gov—reliable government organization
Run: No matter the medium, your students demonstrate autonomy in their research tactics. You have empowered a stellar community of researchers with the ability to lead other students in their pursuit for credible resources.
Google is here to stay, and we need to teach today’s youth how to use it and not abuse it. Google serves as an amazing pedagogical tool to enhance your students’ ability to dig for credible resources. By teaching your students the power of the online search, they will understand that curiosity in any form has no limits. How are you going to teach your students to search more efficiently?
Here are some great kid-safe search engines:
- Filtered Search Results—content from the Internet that is filtered using protective firewalls, custom search algorithms:
- Online Research for High School and College
- Methods of Web Evaluation
- Identifying Reliable Sources and Citing Them
- Thompson, C. (2011). Wired Magazine. “Clive Thompson on Why Kids Can’t Search. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/11/st_thompson_searchresults/.
- Hargittai, E., Fullerton, L., Menchen-Trevino, E., & Thomas, K. Yates (Vol 4, 2010). International Journal of Communication. “Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content.” Retrieved from http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/636.
- Hargadon, S. (2011). “Live Interview Thursday: Panel on Search Literacy with Google’s Tasha Bergson-Michelson.” Retrieved from http://www.stevehargadon.com/2011/11/live-interview-thursday-panel-on-search.html
- Pychyl, T. (2008). “Don’t Delay: Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals.” Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/200805/education-is-not-the-filling-pail-the-lighting-fire.
1In the Wired Magazine article, Thompson discusses how students tend to rely on the pages listed at the top of Google’s results list without investigating the author’s credentials.
2The article “Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content” discusses how the skill of judging online content can vary significantly from person to person, and how the method one uses to evaluate content impacts on how he or she will assess the credibility of the source.