The Myth of the Digital Native
September 11, 2011 2 Comments
Today’s episode of Spark on CBC had an interesting segment called the myth of the digital native (skip to 40:00).
Basically, it explains what academic librarians and library and information science researchers have known for years. Society has a myth that young people are “tech savvy” and know how to search because they are conformable using google. Yet students show a complete inability to think critically about search results, or ability to search effectively and efficiently. Students do not understand subject terms or controlled vocabulary. As a general rule students enter the first keyword or keyphrase that they think of and then click on the first few links. Without understanding how search algorithms work.
This fact is sad, however, just as sad was the fact that this segment never once mentioned librarians. Librarians have known about this for years. We are the ones who help students search, and teach search skills. This phenomenon has been researched (look up Gross & Latham). Gros and Latham found that students have a false confidence in their search skills. For decades now, librarians have known about the lack of search skills (and just generally information literacy skills), and have been working to fix this. Librarians (and LIS researchers) are the ones developing courses, one-off instruction sessions, and online tutorials/screencasts/webinars, and many other methods of teaching students information literacy skills (including search skills, as well as critical evaluation skills).
We need to be careful about the assumptions we make about college students and young people. We assume they are tech savvy because they have an smartphone and an ipad or say that they know how to search. Research shows that students almost only use google, and cannot critically evaluate information found online. Students do not know how to find good credible resources for their assignments, and in their everyday lives. Not only librarians, but also high school teachers and university instructors (and administrators) need to prioritize information literacy as a critical skill that young people need to develop, and do not have.
Unfortunately, these are not intuitive skills and must be learned, and learning requires a teacher, and quality teachers cost money. It isn’t enough to prioritize with our mouths, administrators and government (education) officials need to prioritize information literacy/search skills with their budgets.