Just Google It: How Search Engines Are Lagging Student Research Skills

The current generation of students have grown up with the Internet and a lot of technologies, but surprisingly that doesn’t mean they know how to find the information they need for research papers. A two-year study conducted by the Illinois University Libraries Ethnographic Research Project concludes that students are so used to doing simple Google searches that they find it difficult to do more sophisticated research, whether online or in the library.

The researchers, who interviewed students, librarians, and other academic staff at five universities, found that modern students are often unable to determine which academic journals and databases they need to access to write. an article or carry out a project. If they know which database to use, they get stuck whenever searching for information requires them to do more than type in a few keywords and hit enter.

This inability to do serious research also has implications beyond the campus. “Many students (but not all) do not acquire the information literacy skills they will need in their future careers in university.” Andrew D. Asher, one of the study’s authors, told the Australian news site The conversation. “It’s not just about doing academic research, but also about being a wise, thoughtful, and critical consumer of information.”

The researchers also found that students generally do not seek help from librarians, even when they know the resource is available. Asher says librarians are “missing from the academic worldview of most students.” They don’t realize that 30 minutes with the librarian could open up a whole range of academic research material and databases that aren’t available through a quick Google search.

Asher suggests that students receive “better conceptual training on how search engines organize and retrieve information.” For example, in addition to the mandatory campus alcohol policy workshops, freshmen should attend a session on how to conduct academic research. The new Drexel University Library Learning Terrace, a dormitory space that will be staffed with librarians, could provide a useful model. And since so many databases and academic journals are specific to certain fields of study, different academic departments should educate newly registered majors on how to properly access scholarly resources.

Photo Going through (CC) Flickr user Way of Wonders

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Paul N. Strickland

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