Students are Tech Savvy, But are Weak on Online Search Skills

Although people who have used the internet since AOL was popular remember what life was like before Google first put its unassuming front page online and changed the world, a lot of young people grew up only knowing the experience of having page after page of knowledge at their fingertips. Although logic would suggest that this would make them more sophisticated users, when it comes to search, the overwhelming consensus of researchers seems to be that recognizing credible information is a skill that so-called “digital natives” haven’t mastered quite yet.

The burden is now on educators to remedy this and many are searching for tools to make the task easier — especially how to give young people the patience to conduct a search thorough enough to produce results that can be trusted. According to, the first step to answering that question must involve thorough understanding of the way today’s youth thinks, acts and learns.

The second step is giving young people the basic tools to perform online research in a smart way. Of course, various databases and major search engines — Yahoo!, Bing, Google — have different algorithms and tricks for finding things. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms have their own internal search dynamics. At the most general level, success begins with taking a deliberate approach and articulating a search strategy.

Google – a company that after 15 years of operation is synonymous with internet search – provides tools to make this happen. It employs an “anthropologist of search” Dan Russell to view the process from the point of view of a human user and provide tips to make search easier. Russell continuously updates his blog with useful information designed to make people more adept at the process.

Google also pioneered a number of efforts aimed directly at the education rather than the general purpose market. Among those are instructions for students on using the company’s advanced search features to make research easier and more straightforward.

Microsoft’s Bing also offers its own tips for those doing searches.

At a more specific level, media students should probably have knowledge of good tools that relate to obtaining information about specific people and businesses. Barbara Gray of the New York Times and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism offers tips.

Students should also know that Google Scholar offers a higher grade of information in general, much of which is peer-reviewed.

For greater preparation toward navigating the academic and research world, see “Research tip sheets: Lessons on reading studies, understanding data and methods.”

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