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Study Shows College Students May Need Guidance in Web Use

July 28, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

You already know all about the technology gap, and probably have little faith in your instructors’ web know-how when compared to your own. A recent study, however, shows that you young people may not be as savvy as you think when it comes to online research.

Researchers from Northwestern University looked at 102 University of Illinois at Chicago students to determine how they went about their research when given a number of information-seeking tasks. The study, published by the International Journal of Communication, described the pitfalls of the trust students place in Google and the search engine’s rankings. The main criteria students looked at when choosing which sites to find their information on were where those sites were ranked in Google and other popular search engines like Yahoo!. They also placed little weight on more reputable sites ending in dot-gov or dot-edu, for example, when compared to dot-com pages.

According to the press release for the study, one student responded that they chose a particular site because it was the first to come up in Google. The student was unable to describe much else about that site. Other sites the students said they relied on to complete tasks included SparkNotes, Facebook, and Wikipedia. If you follow the blog, you may remember our tip to use Wikipedia as a starting point only when beginning research; the user-edited Encyclopedia should never be used as a reference, and anything you do find there should be fact-checked elsewhere.

The study suggests that students need more instruction on credible online sources and how to use the web and similar technologies appropriately. IT staff members would probably agree. In an article in eCampus News describing a recent survey of IT officials, faculty, and college students, students and instructors viewed their campuses’ use of technology in the classroom in a much more positive light than the IT staff members. According to that survey, IT staff says more needs to be done in terms of education technology on college campuses and the access to technology in the classroom by students and instructors.


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