How does this resonate in the educational community? The reaction is mixed, not surprisingly, according to an online and focus group study conducted last year by the Pew Research Center along with the College Board and the National Writing Project. The 2,000+ educators who were surveyed teach middle school or high school. Focus groups were conducted both online and offline.
Some of the more interesting findings include:
- The concept of "doing research" has become more of an effort to quickly complete an assignment than to more slowly demonstrate intellectual curiosity.
- Google or some similar search engine is the preferred research method, cited by 94% of the teachers. Wikipedia or a similar online encyclopedia is second at 75%. YouTube (which is owned by Google) is third at 52%.
- Websites of major news organizations are cited by only one in four teachers (25%). Print or electronic textbooks are even further down the list at 18%, while printed books other than textbooks are cited by a mere 12% of teachers. Librarians are only used 16% of the time.
- For the most part, teachers give students good to fair ratings when it comes to research skills, particularly as it focuses on the quality of the material the students find online. Challenging areas include using appropriate search terms and queries, understanding how search results are generated, using multiple sources to support an argument, and assessing the quality and accuracy of information.
- Teachers gave students even lower marks, in the fair to poor category, for patience and determination in gathering hard-to-find information, as well as in recognizing bias in online content.
Recognizing that there is a challenge is a great first step in enabling the future workforce to become more critical thinkers. Schools and public libraries have taken the lead in reinventing themselves to reflect the digital age. The volume of information has grown exponentially. Libraries focus just as much on their electronic tools as their book collections. School systems have embraced the new technologies, as we recently saw when Los Angeles announced that it was initially purchasing 35,000 iPads for its schools, with a goal of providing all 640,000 students with iPads by the end of 2014. For those of us who love research, it bodes well if the quantity and quality of information move in the same direction. Understanding the challenge undoubtedly helps get us to the right solutions.