Dumb Students? Easy Fix: Blame Search Engines, Not Schools
Another day, another “back in my day things were better,” anti-technology story. Good Magazine recently published a post with the unfortunate title: Just Google It: How Search Engines Stunt College Students’ Research Skills. Let that sink in for a moment.
First of all, blaming new technology for a lack of any type of ability in a new generation is absurd. In fact, I would argue the opposite: more technology and greater democratization of tools and information makes people smarter. I grew up with search engines and learned all the advanced search operators I could find. In college, I drafted many research papers and was able to use a hybrid approach of systems within libraries and open search engines on the web. Not only was I successful in drafting research papers this way, it nurtured an ability to research while young which certainly was a factor in inspiring me to become a web publisher.
And yet, not everyone sees technology as a positive. They’re actively looking to demonize something, so of course it’s easier just to blame technology instead of owning issues themselves.
Let’s go through the points in the article and consider just how silly this is:
The researchers, who interviewed students, librarians, and other academic staff at five universities, found that modern students often are unable to figure out which academic journals and databases they need to access to write a paper or complete a project. If they do know which database to use, they get stuck whenever finding the information requires them to do more than type in a few keywords and click enter.
What this quote says to me is a lack of successful education of these students. I don’t see how you can blame the fact that search engines exist on an inability of students to understand which academic journals and databases are necessary to use. Seems like they either haven’t been given the proper tools to understand this, or these students were told / given tools and didn’t use them.
Same thing with “getting stuck.” Someone please connect these issues to Google for me. Even in a pre-search world, these would be typical problems of college students. The author is reminiscing about a reality that never existed: that all (or even a majority) of students were academically gifted, motivated and talented. When was that ever a reality?
This inability to do serious research also has implications beyond campus. “Many (but not all) students are not gaining the information literacy skills in college that they will need in their future careers,”Andrew D. Asher, one of the authors of the study, told the Australian news website The Conversation. “This isn’t just about doing academic research, but also about being a savvy, reflective, and critical consumers of information.”
Doesn’t this seem like an issue with the education system not the fact that companies have developed search engines? I still don’t see how the title of this blog post connects with this story content. Further, Andrew’s opinion here is just wrong. Did calculators ruin our society’s ability to achieve success in math and carry computational skills into their desired industries? Seems like yet another technophobic professor.
Commenter Chris Bigenho made a good point about the validity of this argument:
An old argument: Students are not as bright about their research today because of Google. The claims made in this argument are poor at best as our memories about student’s abilities to do research prior to the Internet age-“Good Old Days” when students knew research-are foggy. I recall working at a research library and was amazed by the number of students who stood before the card catalog with a look on their face indicating they had no idea where to begin. And don’t even get me started with the Readers Guide and journal stacks. Intellectual curiosity is not something lost on this generation; it never really was a trait of any generation. There are those who fall outside the norm and they become the researchers and intellectuals of the day. The rest will stand before that card catalog or Google and believe they have done enough when they find their first resource. Sad, I know. But blaming the technology for student’s lack of ability to do research just does not hold water.
One final note about this study: it was conducted by a library association. Who clearly have a bias to, well, promote libraries. And library research is something that will go the way of the dinosaur in the future. The notion that students even still need to go to a specific location to obtain information that is universally accessible is a quaint idea.
With more and more technology-savvy organizations, non-profits, companies and universities open-sourcing data and research on the web, are gated research databases and physical libraries even going to matter in a world with all content accessible anywhere? Let’s proactively file libraries along with the yellow pages and the remaining living artifacts. Eventually we’ll just have social spaces with internet connections. That’s all we need.
Maybe we should also get upset at the fact that kids these days don’t know how to drive a whip and buggy.
image credit: Shutterstock