this commentary drawing on recent studies at Northwestern and Stanford of how students actually use google.One key finding is that most students believe the highest-ranked results are the most appropriate ones, and have little idea of how to focus searches or filter results.
One task asked students to determine the trustworthiness of material on the websites of two organizations: the 66,000 member American Academy of Pediatrics, established in 1930 and publisher of the journal Pediatrics, vs. the American College of Pediatricians, a fringe group that broke with the main organization in 2002 over its stance on adoption by same-sex couples. We asked 25 undergraduates at Stanford—the most selective college in the country, which rejected 95 percent of its applicants last year—to spend up to 10 minutes examining content on both sites. Students could stay on the initial web page, click on links, Google something else—anything they would normally do to reach a judgment.
More than half concluded that the article from the American College of Pediatricians, an organization that ties homosexuality to pedophilia and which the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled a hate group, was "more reliable." Even students who preferred the entry from the American Academy of Pediatrics never uncovered the differences between the two groups. Instead, they saw the two organizations as equivalent and focused their evaluations on surface features of the websites. As one student put it: "They seemed equally reliable to me. ... They are both from academies or institutions that deal with this stuff every day."
This is, of course, both horrifying and discouraging. It also, as the author of the Curmudgucation blog (where I first read about this piece), points out, one more reason why google will probably not make formal instruction obsolete.