Wicked Problem: Do I have to read it? I can just Google it and Be Done Already!

In my time since I’ve transitioned from primarily a library-based educator to a computer lab-based multiple literacies and technology instructor, I’ve seen into many a student’s lack of confidence in research.  Our online research world is not prepared to meet the needs of our current students and our students are not prepared to navigate our current online research world.Usually it ties into their ability to read.  It still does, more often than not, but there’s a new culprit that may be eating away at our students’ ability to perform research:  Google.  It’s quite often that I’m asked “Do I have to read all of this?” and when I ask the students what they’d do instead, they’d show me by loading up Google and typing in the question, word for word.

This attitude towards research is becoming the norm for the Internet Generation, often called the “Google Generation.”  Simply put, the reliance of students on the internet is overwhelming students’ ability to evaluate and process information.  Information is out there and it is far easier for students to get to information.  However, the seemingly lack of concentration and contemplation seems to be a hindrance towards the type of research quality and information literacy we, as educators, seek to instill in our students.  In 2008, the Joint Information System Committee (JISC) teamed with the University College London (UCL) to write a study on how young researchers interact with the internet during the course of performing research.

The JISC and the University College London (2008) study suggests that the Google Generation prefers simple interfaces that favor speed over authenticity, natural language over a more solid key word based search parameter, and the tendency to simply print off the first response that they come across instead of evaluating the information.  (“Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future” January 11, 2008)  Nate Anderson (2008) simplifies it even further when he suggests the three main preferences of the Google Generation are cut-and-paste, visual over textual interaces, and multitasking. (Anderson January 18, 2008)

A solution, in effect, would be to take the e-infrastructure of the libraries and classrooms (as much as realistically possible) and re-engineer it to match the user.  JISC and the UCL (2008) states that “many young people do not find library-sponsored
resources intuitive and therefore prefer to use Google or Yahoo instead: these offer a familiar, if simplistic solution, for their study needs.”  (“Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future” January 11, 2008).  So these electronic resources such as databases and encyclopedias must work hard to change themselves to become far more intuitive.

Google has already latched onto these trends by launching a myriad of different apps, many even geared towards education.  GoogleScholar is one such app that appeals greatly towards the Google Generation.  Even simple online tools used alongside research, such as word processors, are now Google apps that appeal to the Google Generation just the same:  very basic, easy to use, easy to access from any internet capable computer.

Another solution comes in the educators themselves.  Teachers should start teaching more on question strategies and keyword formation strategies.  Librarians and Technology educators should teach website evaluation and search engine navigation.  Better access should be given towards academic online databases that are age appropriate.

Tech-Integrated Strategies and Logistics of Implementation

For me, the best way to implement change to help my students in this infrastructure is to become versed in the same technologies they enjoy and teach them how to better use them using meaningful and engaging methods.  I research online databases, search engines, and electronic resources and try to find those that are the most student friendly.  I then structure lessons in chunks introducing each vital aspect of the electronic resource needed to complete the task at hand, each chunk building towards a whole project experience with real-life meaning.

It is still a challenge to fund such endeavors and there are always new and exciting interfaces coming online every year and very little in the way of funding to acquire it.  However, I plan to implement and teach how to use each electronic resource my district provides my students in such a way as to give my students the easiest and most basic approach to using it as possible.  If I can make it seem as easy to use as Google, then perhaps students will use it for school work as much or at least more often.

I will also implementing website evaluation lessons to build critical thinking.  If I can get the students to think to themselves “Yes, this answer seems right, but is it really?” and get them to check their sources, then a better understanding will be reached for the learned information and a strong sense of information literacy will prevail.

I’m still learning questioning strategies and how to form essential questions to better foster inquiry and learning.  To build engagement, I work very hard to integrate learning strategies on this matter through situations or aspects of the curriculum that most students find interesting, or try to get projects that allow the students to implement the learning targets that I teach in a creative manner on a topic of their own choosing.  Also, since my students are a naturally social entity in a school setting, I am starting to implement cooperative learning groups to assist with students who may not be as comfortable with online environments as others due to their academic abilities being behind their peers.

Cooperative Learning helps to decrease the achievement gap overall, but aids in research as well.  Richard Slavin (1988) suggests that the key to cooperative learning lies in individual accountability within a group environment and group goals.  He then (as cited in Webb 1985) states that these goals “gives students a stake in one another’s success.  Without group goals, students are not likely to engage in the elaborate explanations that have been found to be essential to the achievement effects of cooperative learning.” (Slavin 1988)  This produced the motivation by the group to help all who are in the group without placing those who may be struggling in a situation that wouldn’t likely produce success.   n

Lastly, one of the biggest factors, in my opinion, behind failure to perform comprehensive research strategies online is the aspect of reading itself.  Some students really desire to learn but are limited by their ability to read and comprehend what is being read.  Reading comprehension strategies coupled with support systems (like groups) will help.  Also, many online databases, such as EBSCOHost, have recorded many of their full text research articles online.  This would give students with auditory learning strategies an ability to read along with the spoken word.  If this text-to-speech capability could be moved to a more real-time Google Search environment, comfort in deeper searching could become a better reality.

Order of Implementation:

In order to succeed in this project, I plan to implement these strategies in the following manner:

  1. Model, Share, and Guide questioning and keyword formation strategies.
  2. Search Engine Instruction:  Boolean Language and Search Engine basics
  3. Direct Instruction:  Electronic Databases and Subscription e-Resources
  4. Cooperative Group Exercise:  Search Engine Evaluation:  Database vs. Google, Intro. to Website Evaluation
  5. Cooperative Group Exercise:  Website Evaluation


For this to work I’m going to use the following tools:

Common Sense Media – Our School District subscribes to Common Sense as a means of Internet Safety.  They also publish straight forward Website evaluation tools for Elementary through Secondary Education.

OPS Library’s Online Databases and Omaha Public Library’s Resource Center – These are both pages supplied to OPS students, staff, parents, and community (password or Omaha Public Library Card numbers are required to access) for the use of research.  They also link to library catalogs for the respective entities for conventional, text-based research.

Collaborative Internet-based programs, such as Edmodo or Google Apps, would be an excellent toolbox to be used for projects.

Indications of a Successful Project

Indications on a problem such as the one defined may not be as clearly defined as more practical, curriculum based issues (such as pedagogical issues involving math or science), but a successful project will have indicators through qualitative assessment such as observations and self-reflective assessments.

The primary indicator will simply be the diversification of search media students utilize during the independent work sessions on group projects.  Inevitably they will still resort to simplified search techniques (“Googling” for example), but if they insert other search medium such as EBSCOHost or other online databases and use those services to the same effect that Googling would allow, the project will be successful.


Anderson, Nate. Ars Technica, “The “Google Generation” not so Hot at Googling, After All.” Last modified January 18, 2008. Accessed January 18, 2013. http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2008/01/the-google-generation-not-so-hot-at-googling-after-all/.

Carr, Nicholas. The Atlantic Magazine, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?.” Last modified July/August 208. Accessed January 18, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/.

JISC and University College London, “Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future.” Last modified January 11, 2008. Accessed January 18, 2013. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/reppres/gg_final_keynote_11012008.pdf.

Slavin, Robert E. “Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement.” Educational Leadership. (1988): 31-33. http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198810_slavin.pdf (accessed January 19, 2013).

Webb, Noreen. “Student Interaction and Learning in Small Groups: A Research Summary.” In Learning to Cooperate, Cooperating to Learn, edited by R. E. Slavin, S Sharan, S Kagan, R. Hertz-Lazarowitz, R. Schmuck, and C. Webb, New York: Putnam, 1985.

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