Friday, April 07, 2006

Are search engines making today's students dumber?

In a recent classroom assignment, I noticed that students really do not understand how to use search engines on the Web. One example, the phrase "royalties agreement". When asked to define this phrase and give an example, my students immediately copies and pasted the words into the online dictionary search window and while yaking at the student beside them about the upcoming Prom, they noticed that no entry could be found. Hands went up and they began to become off task even more. When asked what their problem was, the students just shrugged their shoulders and said, "this ain't on the Internet", I can't find it." I could feel the blood beginning to boil in my head.

Teachable moment? Or time to get out the worksheet and textbooks and turn off the computer? That is why teachers do not want to use the Internet/computers in the classroom. Kids are more interested in their social lives and personal issues-- aka family, entertainment, etc. Than they are about learning new skills. The moment that student could not find the words she typed in, was when she gave up on "finishing her task". I learned a lesson. Looking up definitions on the Web does not help students learn what they mean. It is just doing old task in a new way. I need to find a better way to get them to learn about ethical issues in digital media. So, my question about the article below is what are they really measuring?
n December, the National Center for Education Statistics published a report on adult literacy revealing that the number of college graduates able to interpret complex texts proficiently had dropped since 1992 from 40 percent to 31 percent. As Mark S. Schneider, the center's commissioner of education statistics, put it, "What's disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels."

The "Higher Education Supplement" of The Times of London reports that a British survey also finds that the ability of undergraduates to read critically and write cogently has fallen significantly since 1992. Students are not just more poorly prepared, a majority of queried faculty members believe, but less teachable.

While some blame reality television, MP3 players, cellphones or the multitasking that juggles them all, the big change has been the Web. Beginning in the early 1990s, schools, libraries and governments embraced the Internet as the long promised portal to information access for all.

At the heart of their hopes for an educational breakthrough were efficient search engines like Google and those of Yahoo and MSN. The new search engines not only find more, they also are more likely to present usable information on the first screen.

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