Pew Survey: Students Need Better Internet Research Skills

Although the vast majority of secondary school teachers who teach advanced courses say that technology has improved their students’ researching skills, a similarly large number believe that – overall – the growing popularity of tech mostly serves to disadvantage students because it is creating a generation that has difficulty concentrating and has a short attention span.

These conclusions about the impact of technology on some of the best high-school students in the country were part of a survey conducted and published by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project. On the whole, teachers believe that the easy access to information made possible by a constantly-growing, improving internet will eventually prove to be a boon to students — but not until they master the skills to use it effectively.

On the positive side, 99% of teachers agreed that the internet is a gateway to information that would not have been as readily available without it. And nearly 65% agreed that having this information allowed students to become more self-sufficient and independent when doing academic research. Yet, as other answers indicate, the general view of the instructors surveyed is that access to all this information can prove to be as much of a pitfall as it is a help.

For example, more than 3/4 of teachers thought that the drastic improvement in search engine technology meant that there was a certain level of expectation among students that information which they seek could be located easily. Combined with the vast amount of data now available online, this means that the students aren’t yet equipped to be able to efficiently sift and separate reliable from unreliable sources.

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

Given these concerns, it is not surprising that 47% of these teachers strongly agree and another 44% somewhat believe that courses and content focusing on digital literacy should be incorporated into every school’s curriculum.

The data for the survey was collected by Pew Internet in two stages. Initially, several focus groups with teachers were conducted both in person and online, and two-person focus groups were also held for students in grades 9-12. The information from the focus groups was used to create the 30-minute online survey that was taken by a range of high school and middle school teachers from all over the country.