Joho the Blog » [2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

[2b2k] How students e-research…and is it helping?

Pew Internet has been producing some important and interesting studies on how students do research in the world of e.


A couple of weeks ago, Pew released a report on how Americans 16-29 use the library. Here’s Pew’s highlights:

  • 83% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year. Some 75% read a print book, 19% read an e-book, and 11% listened to an audiobook.

  • Among Americans who read e-books, those under age 30 are more likely to read their e-books on a cell phone (41%) or computer (55%) than on an e-book reader such as a Kindle (23%) or tablet (16%).

  • Overall, 47% of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. E-content readers under age 30 are more likely than older e-content readers to say that they are reading more these days due to the availability of e-content (40% vs. 28%).

  • 60% of Americans under age 30 used the library in the past year. Some 46% used the library for research, 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books), and 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.

  • Many of these young readers do not know they can borrow an e-book from a library, and a majority of them express the wish they could do so on pre-loaded e-readers. Some 10% of the e-book readers in this group have borrowed an e-book from a library and, among those who have not borrowed an e-book, 52% said they were unaware they could do so. Some 58% of those under age 30 who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service.


The report usefully breaks its population into three age groups.


Then yesterday, Pew Internet released a report called How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. It surveys Advanced Placement teachers and National Writing Program communities. Her’s Pew’s overall summary:

Overall, teachers who participated in this study characterize the impact of today’s digital environment on their students’ research habits and skills as mostly positive, yet multi-faceted and not without drawbacks. Among the more positive impacts they see: the best students access a greater depth and breadth of information on topics that interest them; students can take advantage of the availability of educational material in engaging multimedia formats; and many become more self-reliant researchers.

At the same time, these teachers juxtapose these benefits against some emerging concerns. Specifically, some teachers worry about students’ overdependence on search engines; the difficulty many students have judging the quality of online information; the general level of literacy of today’s students; increasing distractions pulling at students and poor time management skills; students’ potentially diminished critical thinking capacity; and the ease with which today’s students can borrow from the work of others.

These teachers report that students rely mainly on search engines to conduct research, in lieu of other resources such as online databases, the news sites of respected news organizations, printed books, or reference librarians.

Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines.


But the most distressing takeaway is: “87% say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

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