Without a doubt, my 13-year-old daughter can text paragraphs faster and more accurate than I can text one sentence. My 15-year-old son is my go-to person for all my TV, computer, and technology needs. He had all my apps downloaded and ready to go on my Droid phone before I knew how to turn it on.
Watching my 3-year-old niece navigate her way around the screen confirms what my friend, Chris Lehman, has proclaimed for some time; technology is like oxygen for these kids. Their ease with the web is simply amazing.
Being tech-comfy, however, does not guarantee their proficiencies automatically grow into new and sophisticated literacies or on line competencies as info-sumers, critical thinkers, and savvy participants in a digital space. For many youth, their motto seems to be, “In Google We Trust”, or so says a new study coming out of Northwestern University; exploring the savvy web skills (or lack thereof) of college students, especially as it relates to search strategies and ability to determine the credibility of search results.
You can read more about the study here, but the following exchange sums up the overall results:
One of the researchers asked a study participant, “What is this website?” The student answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”
The facts are disturbing:
- Only one quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because – and only because – it was the first search result.
- Only 10% of the students made mention of the site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks.
- Even the groups considered “most savvy”; none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors.
We perpetuate this trend of digital unpreparedness when we operate under the erroneous assumption that so-called “digital- natives” are ready and equipped for the challenges of the read/write web. It is critical for institutions and organizations to pay attention to a person’s specific skills and literacies rather than submit to the notion that age or generation gives one a free membership pass into this new literacy club.
What worries me most, is knowing that “media/web” literacy skills in schools, if taught at all, are considered secondary or optional. In a time where students will do most of their reading, writing, and research across digital texts and mediums, I would argue they need these skills more than ever. And, more importantly they need us to lead them into their digital future.