Volume 93, Issue 28

Wednesday, October 20, 1999


Dalhousie student union bans preacher

Stadium levy concerns students

McGill study reveals kids get lost on information highway

Extending rights may increase confusion


Buzz Mecca

Caught on Campus

McGill study reveals kids get lost on information highway

By Leena Kamat
Gazette Staff

Students may not be surfing the web as effectively as they think they are.

The results of a study conducted by four researchers at McGill University were released last week and show children do not know how to use the internet efficiently for research purposes, said Andrew Large, a professor at McGill's graduate school of library and information studies and the study's principle investigator.

The study, completed in June 1998, involved 53 Grade 6 students researching the 1998 Winter Olympics on the web, Large said. The students were given two months to complete the project in a classroom setting.

The study showed students at the elementary school level had difficulty finding information on the web, Large said. "We found the kids at a mechanical level could cope with search engines. But they [display a] difficulty in how to find the information they were looking for."

Although only some of the students had previously used the web, the majority of them became adept to it but did not know what kinds of search terms to look for, Large added. "[The students] were let loose in an enormous information storm."

Large said the children expressed that they felt traditional research methods, such as libraries and books, held information more appropriate for their age group. He added the information on the web is not usually presented in a manner aimed at children.

Large was also quick to point out these findings do not mean the internet is useless for children. "I believe the web is very rich as an information store. It is an important tool."

Over the two months, the students grew more confident on the computer, but did not improve at information seeking, he said.

"To an extent, the internet is a fad and too much emphasis is placed on it. People feel it is the only answer," Large said, adding the internet should be used along with traditional methods such as encyclopedias and books.

Michael Clarke, chair of the advisory board of the Instructional Technology Resource Centre at Western and a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, said he agreed with Large's findings.

"When I look at [students'] search patterns, it's a two-fold problem," Clarke said, adding one is inefficient searching and the other is an inabilty to check the validity of the information.

Clarke said this is a problem for people of all ages and added internet searching skills should be taught in schools, however it is not a part of the curriculum.

Jim Delaney, a computer and business teacher at John Paul II Secondary School in London, said the difficulty in searching is often the result of identifying a clear topic.

"If the students are looking at topics that are obscure, [they] need to know the proper words. If they are researching broad base topics, it is hard to miss [finding web sites]," Delaney said.

Delaney added the school does not specifically teach web searching techniques, but agreed it would be a good idea.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999