The InterWhat?

Computer

Despite literally decades of sunny predictions about the glories of technology and how it will make young people sophisticated thinkers, researchers, and media consumers, it turns out today’s college students don’t even really know how to use the Internet very well.

According to a piece by Adrian Chen at Gawker:

In a detailed study of 30 college students by anthropologists at Illinois Wesleyan, only seven were able to do a “reasonably well-executed search.” According to Inside Higher Ed:

They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

[The authors] said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies.

This doesn’t surprise me. This occurs in part because the sort of people who might teach students about responsible use of the Internet, people who have real respect for data and proof and documentation, are mostly the sort of people who avoid, or at least aren’t really enthusiastic about, technology, thinking that this too shall pass.

And they’re right. All of that technology they’re talking about—the ability to use refined tools like Google Book Search or Google Scholar to do better research and get better evidence—here basically represents the ability to use particular forms of proprietary software.

Well great, but three years ago when these kids were in high school taking those kinds of courses that technology didn’t even exist. Who would have taught them to use it well?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer