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Why Kids Can’t Search (maybe we need to think of seeking?)

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Basajaun

I flinch a bit at such generalization, but “based on research” means something- in Wired, Clive Thompson speculates “Why Kids Can’t Search”:

We’re often told that young people tend to be the most tech-savvy among us. But just how savvy are they? A group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan tried to find out. Specifically, Pan wanted to know how skillful young folks are at online search. His team gathered a group of college students and asked them to look up the answers to a handful of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the students generally relied on the web pages at the top of Google’s results list.

But Pan pulled a trick: He changed the order of the results for some students. More often than not, those kids went for the bait and also used the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Pan grimly concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit””they’re putting too much trust in the machine.

And tus we stand affirmed- This tech whiz kids are not so savvy. Or We are still better. (?)

Yet, I believe the questions being asked are wrong.

“Kids” are given some assignment and want to get it done as fast as possible, to satisfy what is being set in front of them. They give the top results…because the question they are asked to “research” does not matter much to them.

When we talk of searching, we are talking the basic most bottom of the pyramid structure motivational task. Frankly, I don;t care if kids can “search”– I want to know what happens when they seek.

I expect the results change dramatically when the seeking matters, when there is an investment in the results (not just a grade). What happens when the study goes to looking what happens when kids (gawd I hate saying that again and again) are looking for an audio track to mix in their video, when they are trying to find out how to build something… I bet they are much more critical in the result- because they matter.

Thus I put little stock into these surveys because… well, I am sure everyone can remember being given rote assignments in school. Like 10,000 times.

And this blanket conclusion of “Kids Can’t do X”, well I can think of plenty of exceptions. What comes to mind was in 2008, when I got a chance to visit Brian Crosby’s 6th grade students in Reno. It was after I had skyped in to his class while I was in Iceland. As I was trying to tell the kids about things I saw there, like volcano heated homes and the northern lights, they were busily googling and asking me if this matched- they were in no way plucking the top results, but were connecting.

Kids can’t search because the questions we are asking are not big enough. Let’s stop patting ourselves on our backs for our critical thinking superiority.

And it’s not just kids, folks it is you too, when you ask questions rather than seek answers. For a large chunk of my career, especially in the last decade, most of my reputation for knowing something about technology came because people would call ro email asking a question, I would google the results, and send them a summary and links. I was not answering their question at all, but was seeking the answers. And it did matter to me because I wanted to help them.

This is not new, and I am not going to name people, but I regularly come across questions from some of my colleagues who are deep in the ed tech game — that I am able to answer by googling the query.

And I am finding some of this bleeding into my thoughts on Rhizomatic Learning – seeking is very much a part of this way of– being– it is more than a “model” or education or something to “integrate into a classroom”- we ought to be pushing a way of being in this world.

The nomadic way is seeking; the worker/solider way is searching.

We seek when it matters.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by The U.S. Army

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. “I expect the results change dramatically when the seeking matters, when there is an investment in the results (not just a grade)”

    This statement jumped out at me, and has me wondering if perhaps the questions that really matter, the ones we really should be and want to be investing our time in, can even be answered through a Google search.

    Kids can’t search because we still ask them the same questions we had without the internet, and are still doing a poor job of getting them to “skim, scan, and summarize” search results the same way we have a hard time getting those same skills across with paper text. Although I do think there’s some value in the simple questions that your colleagues ask of you that is perhaps unsaid; do they ask you because they know you’ll be able to find it faster, or do they ask you because they trust your critical eye better than their own? Or maybe they just want the reassurance from your relationship with them that what they know, or can find on their own, is in fact true?

    1. This is why I prefer Bing to Google. Using Bing, I can see if the content is relevant to my real “seek” instead of having to go back and forth. I’m don’t care what Google thinks is most popular; it’s seldom that for which I am really looking, since most of my “seeking” is academic.

  2. Wow, you’ve got it nailed. You’re so right by saying our questions aren’t inviting them to seek but to search rather superficially. Will think of that next time I’m sending them on a mission… 😉

    1. The biggest problem, really, I have in my classes is to convince my students that they need to think, not memorize. This is why I love theory. I teach sociology, and make it as relevant as possible. Therefore, I give them a current situation, and have them analyze it using theory. Google is no help doing this.

  3. One of the best posts I’ve read anywhere recently, Alan. We all seek when it matters, even the “kids”. Sadly, most kids have had to become expert hoop jumpers. Hoop jumping is perhaps the most successfully taught course in schools everywhere–from primary school through graduate school. We all know that hoop jumping is just a matter of going through the motions in order to meet expectations that are important to someone else!

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