Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Teens and research

Image form Pixabay-  Gerd Altman
In 2012 the Pew Research Center published a report on "How Teens do research in the digital world" where PEW surveyed over 2000 middle school teachers from the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Taking a quote directly from the summary of findings "The study was designed to explore teachers views of the ways today's digital environment is shaping research and writing habits of of middle and high school students". The research was conducted through surveys and focus groups. 

The key findings of the study were that access to digital resources has had positive effects of student research and some areas of major concern :

Positive effects
  • The best students access greater depth and breadth of information 
  • Students are able to take advantage of information in multiple formats - video, audio, interactive, text, images. etc.
  • Many students become self reliant researchers
Concerns
  • Students have an over dependence on search engines to find their information
  • The difficulty of students had to judge the quality of online information
  • Literacy levels of some students was lower than expected
  • The distractions of the online environment
  • Poor time management skills on the part of the students
  • Students diminished critical thinking capacity
  • Ease of borrowing work from others
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The teachers in the study also identified the resources students were most likely to use when undertaking research. A visual of their responses is below. (Click to enlarge)




What do these results mean for school librarians?
Although this report is from 2012, I wonder if 4 years hence has made any difference to where students retrieve their information? I don't think it has so much. 

I have observed that students are still over reliant on search engines to source their information. Taking a wild speculation, I believe this is because they are easily accessible  - minimal effort for maximum results. One click and I can find something that might be worthwhile and over 2 million results to search through if the first 3 don't help me. Certainly value for time.

Youtube and other video channels were found to be used over 50% of the time. This is a strong indication that students want multimedia as a source of information rather than just text. How are school librarians harnessing this? What are schools doing to support this in the form of  "digital asset management".

A significant amount of the library budget is spent on databases, yet from this report, only 17% of the time they are used to find information, surely that is not the best use of money? Why aren't they used more? Again a not so wild speculation would be they require much more effort to locate the information, are largely invisible, the content can sometimes be difficult to find if you are not familiar with the way databases are set up, each database has a its own functions and format - different to others, and usually the information is at a much higher reading level than is accessible for the students.

It is no surprise then than printed books are less utilised than the online resources - the effort is just too much to go to the library, find & retrieve what you want, open the book and read all the information without having the 'find' function to assist. And of course, there is no copy / paste function. Text books are used more than regular non fiction print, both in digital and print format, is this because the content is already neatly packaged for the course? Again it comes down to he  time spent : number of results ratio.

Google has made finding out stuff very easy, has this meant that student expectations of what research entails has changed or has it always been take the easiest route? Good research is messy, and if an assessment task has been well planned, it will require thinking on many levels, formulation of good questions, and a requirement to locate information from different sources with different points of view to support ones position. As a middle school student I needed to use books to find my information, I proceeded to find what I needed, hand wrote the required information straight onto the poster I was required to make, and hand it in. No bibliography was required, and I usually copied verbatim. I am not sure much learning was done as the assessment task was usually to find facts.

In 2016, middle & high school students have many more expectations from their teachers, and teachers need to be up to the task of creating interesting and value added assessment tasks that require critical, creative and reflective thinking to ensure that students have a desire to go beyond Google. However, if we want middle and high schools students to use more reliable sources, we need to make them more accessible and easier to use, or, change the mindset of teens.  I know which is the easier option.

It would be an interesting research project to replicate this study in your own school to find out what resources students are accessing and even ask them why. A study like this could include the teachers and students and compare what the perception is from the teachers of students resourcing information and the reality from the students. Surveys and analysis of bibliographies could be the tools.


This post is part 1 of 2 parts on the PEW report.

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