Not as Web Savvy as You Think

Researchers also asked students questions about websites they chose.

After using Google to get to a website, this interaction occurred between a researcher and a study participant:

Researcher: “What is this website?”

Student: “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”

“Search engine rankings seem extremely important,” Hargittai said. “We
found that a website’s layout or content almost didn’t even matter to
the students. What mattered is that it was the number one result on

Aside from Google, other online brands that students mentioned most
often to complete tasks were: Yahoo!, SparkNotes, MapQuest, Microsoft,
Wikipedia, AOL and Facebook. —Northwestern (press release)

Many young people who can use Google, know their way around iTunes, have been told all their lives by their parents and teachers that they (the young people) are experts when it comes to the internet.  But I regularly encounter students who have no idea that anyone can edit Wikipedia. (Their jaws drop when I call up a random page and add random crap, then push the “preview” button. The last time I did this, some started chanting, “Post it! Post it!”) 

The young people who can make awesome music videos, LEGO stop-motion films etc. weren’t born with those skills… they worked hard to develop and tweak their skills. I ask students to create alpha and beta releases of their media projects, and to test their releases on users.  That’s very different from asking them to drop off their project on the last day of classes and not asking them to think critically about how they can learn from their efforts.

One reason I ask students to blog is to get them to think clearly about the circumstances in which much of the content on the web is created. Every year, one or two students will cite a class project in their own research papers. Once I had a student submit a research paper that cited a fourth-grade school project.