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Search engine use as a literacy in the middle years: The need for explicit instruction and active learners

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The internet has provided today's middle years students with limitless, instantaneous information offering unprecedented educational benefits. Scholars have noted, however, that students frequently struggle to find information in such an overwhelming environment and exhibit disadvantageous search behaviours despite frequent use. These behaviours, research suggests, are rarely responded to with explicit search instruction in schools. Little is known furthermore, about the potential benefits of exposing students to such explicit instruction, nor of the way students view their role when searching online. This paper presents data from an intervention carried out with middle years students in relation to online searching. Data revealed that although a single intervention was not sufficient in changing the students' views of themselves as searchers, nor of perfecting search strategies, students showed a willingness to adopt new strategies taught. This knowledge has possible implications for better equipping students for learning and assessment, especially when research and online searching are required for success.
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Literacy Learning:
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Number 3
October 2018
Peer Reviewed
Paper
Search engine use as a literacy in
the middle years: The need for
explicit instruction and active
learners
Renee Morrison | Grifth University, Queensland
Georgina Barton | University of Southern Queensland
ABSTRACT
The internet has provided today’s middle years students with limitless, instantaneous information
offering unprecedented educational benefits. Scholars have noted, however, that students frequently
struggle to find information in such an overwhelming environment and exhibit disadvantageous
search behaviours despite frequent use. These behaviours, research suggests, are rarely responded
to with explicit search instruction in schools. Little is known furthermore, about the potential
benefits of exposing students to such explicit instruction, nor of the way students view their role
when searching online. This paper presents data from an intervention carried out with middle
years students in relation to online searching. Data revealed that although a single intervention
was not sufficient in changing the students’ views of themselves as searchers, nor of perfecting search
strategies, students showed a willingness to adopt new strategies taught. This knowledge has possible
implications for better equipping students for learning and assessment, especially when research and
online searching are required for success.
Introduction
The nature of today’s digital age and the educational affordances that come with it would have been
hard to imagine even a few decades ago. This, our ‘most rapid period of technological transformation
ever’, has resulted in a practically infinite amount of information being instantaneously available to
students (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010, p.3). Google alone now has an estimated 60 trillion pages (How
search works, n.d.). Many in the field of literacy education have noted ‘new literacies’ afforded by
such a technological revolution (Jewitt, 2008; Kalantzis, Cope, Chan & Dalley-Trim, 2017). The
era is also said to have brought about a new breed of learner; what Prensky (2001) coined the ‘digital
native’. Though the dichotomous nature of Prensky’s roles (‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’)
has been increasingly challenged (Bennett & Maton, 2010), his suggestion encapsulated a popular ‘us
versus them’ perception between educators and students. His suggestion of a defining divide between
educator and student has continued to inspire educational change the world over. Admittedly, students
in today’s classrooms– like middle years students– have never known a world without the internet and,
in Australia, are said to spend in excess of 14 hours online every month (Australian Communications
and Media Authority (ACMA), 2013). Such widespread use necessitates a greater understanding of the
ways students interact with the internet, and of ways such use can be improved to better enable them
to maximise its incredible potential.
Recent expenditure by the Australian Government of more than $2 billion on the implementation
of digital technologies in classrooms reflects an appreciation for the imperative to empower students
with new digital literacies (Beckman, Bennett & Lockyer, 2014). Such an appreciation is also apparent
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in ACARA’s (n.d.) inclusion of ‘Information and Communication Technology’ as one of seven
overarching General Capabilities, not to mention the recent roll out of a new separate subject area,
‘Digital Technologies’. A growing body of research, however, suggests that despite such educational
moves, these ‘digital natives’, said to ‘live and breathe technology’, are far from epitomising cyber-
expertise (Gui & Argentin, 2011; Macpherson, 2013; Nelson, Courier & Joseph, 2011, p.104). Many
contend there exists a lack of evidence to confirm that young adolescents are, as Prensky (2001)
suggested, already imbued with the literacies necessary to capitalise on new technologies like search
engines. A recent report into OECD students, computers and learning, based on results from PISA
2012, looked at the importance of online navigation for digital reading. Though Australia performed
well in some items (ranking in the top 5 countries for students whose navigation behaviour best
conformed to task demands), one in ten students in OECD nations demonstrated web-browsing
activities ‘signalling a lack of basic computer skills, a lack of familiarity with web browsing or a lack of
motivation’ (OECD, 2015, p.4). This potentially means educators need to continue to teach middle
years students the necessary skills to utilise such a resource effectively.
This research aimed to firstly identify what digital literacies middle years students currently have
regarding search engine use and secondly, to implement an intervention that aspired to improve
students’ search engine skills. Previous research suggests that if students are not exposed to explicit
search engine skills or are left to teach themselves how to search for information online, they will
at best, waste time and find inaccurate information, and at worst, lack the literacies required to
participate in their future, digitally-saturated world (Beckman, Bennett & Lockyer, 2014; Blikstad-
Balas & Hvistendahl, 2013; Quintana, Pujol & Romani, 2012). As such, thise paper aims to answer
the question: To what extent does exposure to explicit skills for using search engines affect middle
years students’ online searching?
A brief review of the literature
What do good online searchers look like?
Search engine use involves the operation of web browsers, such as Bing, Google and/or Yahoo to find
relevant and required information. Search engine use not only increasingly replaces other forms of
information seeking (Schroeder, 2014), but has been found to correlate with several educational benefits
(Schroeder, 2015; van Deursen & van Dijk, 2010) including instantaneous sources, higher scores in
reading (Barrett, 2012) and mathematics tests (Casey, Layte, Lyons & Silles, 2012), and improving the
provision of cognitive scaffolding (Johnson, 2010). Search engines are unlike traditional educational
tools, however, because they are not passive entities (e.g. pencil or rubber) which unwittingly follow
student directions. The relationship between an online information seeker and the search engine is
likewise different to the more traditional author/audience relationship. Researchers warn that today’s
student can ‘no longer [be] a passive entity that processes a single text mode in linear sequence’ (Yus,
2011, p.49). Whereas more traditional educational resources like books present a message already
created by the absent author to the student, search engines require students to first identify their
informational need. In this manner, effective searchers need to play an active role to best utilise the
potential educational benefits of search engines.
Accordingly, considerable attention has been given to comparing the behaviours of novice and
unsuccessful search engine users to those that are more effective. Ineffective behaviours frequently
reported to be used by middle years searchers include: scripting natural language queries in full
sentence format (Jochmann-Mannak, Huibers, Lentz & Sanders, 2010); reading entire websites/
results pages rather than scanning (Jones & Hafner, 2012); not questioning site credibility (Kuiper,
Volman & Terwel, 2008; Lei, Lin & Sun, 2013) and relying on search engines’ placement of results
as a measure of relevance (Blikstad-Balas & Hvistendahl, 2013). These habits, it could be argued,
reflect a passive stance whereby searchers play a limited role in defining the information needed, or
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identifying the need poorly, and accepting the results and information presented uncritically. Despite
such disadvantageous searching habits, most research also reports a confidence, held by students
and teachers alike, in the students’ searching abilities (Barrett, 2012; Georgas, 2014; Kammerer &
Bohnacker, 2012). This confidence, though potentially misplaced, could help to explain the finding
that teachers are frequently failing to explicitly teach today’s students’ online searching techniques
(Combes, 2013; Ladbrook & Probert, 2011; Morrison, 2014).
Given this study’s aim of attempting to improve students’ search engine skills, of strong interest
are those strategies identified as helping searchers. Most work suggests that the best results are
presented to searchers who first actively consider their intent or the type of information sought prior
to searching (Quintana et al., 2012; Waller, 2011). This, along with findings that not all searches are
alike, gives rise to suggestion that teachers should focus less on the outcomes of search and ‘direct
their attention to the [searching] process instead’ (Rasmusson & Eklund, 2013, p.1). Lei, Lin and
Sun’s (2013) work, which reported that ‘experienced users are more likely to employ a variety of
techniques’ when searching, further supports this argument (p.152). There is also agreement that the
way stronger searchers use their time when seeking information online differs from that of ineffective
searchers (Robertson-Lang, Major & Hemming, 2011). Robertson-Lang and Major (2011) found
expert searchers ‘adopt a depth-first strategy […] use well-composed keyword phrases […] scan their
results carefully; and adjust their queries after reviewing incoming information’ (p.635); all of which
are active strategies. Such findings informed the design of this study and attested to the importance of
developing strong literacy skills of students if they are to capitalise on this unprecedented educational
resource.
Notes about the study
In answering the question ‘to what extent does exposure to explicit skills for using search engines affect
middle years students’ online searching?’, it was necessary to first identify the existing search engine
skills of middle years students and, second, consider whether or not exposure to explicit teaching
improved these skills. This research involved five Grade/ Year 8 students (three boys and two girls aged
approximately 12–13 years) completing a pre-test and interview and subsequently participating in the
explicit instruction intervention lesson. Post-tests and interviews were then conducted to compare
search performance as well as the searchers’ views.
The tasks in the pre- and post-tests included open and closed questions and four different ‘types’
of searches based on the work of Waller (2011) and Broder (2002). Search tasks were designed to be
either: informational– responding to an information need; navigational– to reach a particular site;
or transactional – to complete a ‘web-mediated activity’ (Broder, 2002, p.5). By way of example,
one informational search on the pre-test asked students to ‘name the last 3 Republican presidents of
America’. An example of a navigational search on the post-test asked students to ‘find the URL for
the official Ottawa Bluesfest’. The design of the nine search tasks was influenced by a desire to avoid
searchers being able to successfully find the ‘correct’ information should they copy the question into
the browser verbatim. Several studies have reported this to be a recurring, yet ineffectual, habit of
middle years searchers (Kuiper et al., 2008; Quintana et al., 2012). All search tasks were piloted by the
researcher in this manner, with tasks re-designed as required. The researcher did not assist students
with their search tasks but was on call to help with technical issues during the tests.
The individual pre- and post-interviews were conducted over approximately half an hour on the
students’ school site. These were audio and video recorded with permission for later transcription and
analysis. Participants were asked questions in a largely ‘standardised open-ended interview’ (Cohen,
Manion & Morrison, 2000, p.271). Questions sought insight into the students’ knowledge of search
engines, use of search engines, and any assistance received from mentors. Quantitative data were also
collected during the interviews by asking participants to indicate: how often they performed certain
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searching behaviours; which search terms they would most likely use given an informational need; and
how they perceived their role during a variety of computational scenarios. This last question (Figure
1) was unique in that it asked students to choose one of two simplified and stylised images to describe
their interaction with a computer during various common computational scenarios.
As shown, both images contain a human computer user, an arrow and a computer. Drawing A
represents a situation where the computer is directing the interaction or is in charge. Drawing B, by
contrast, represents a situation where the human is directing the interaction or is in charge. In this
way, Drawing A could be said to illustrate a passive computer user, whereas Drawing B illustrates a
more active one. Drawing B, that is, also better reflects a successful searcher; those previously found to
be active in directing their search by scripting (and re-scripting) clearly defined queries and carefully
considering results and site credibility. This simplified design (of otherwise complicated interactions)
was utilised to isolate purely the searcher’s role as perceived by the students, given previous findings
that search engines require new roles of our middle years students. Indeed, the types of skills demanded
by the internet are not only unique, but are said to ‘turn the reader of any text […] from a passive
human being to an active one’ (Hashemi & Soltanifar, 2011, p.368).
Two weeks after the pre-tests and interviews, the five students attended the intervention lesson.
The lesson was video recorded. Students learn best when they perceive relevance in a lesson (Walraven,
Brand-Gruwel & Boshuizen, 2013). As such, key findings from the students’ own pre-tests were first
shared. Each of the search difficulties identified were colour coded and addressed in the intervention;
‘thinking of key words to type’ was blue for example, ‘choosing a web site to look at’ was yellow. For
each activity in the lesson students were told both the specific difficulty and correlating colour codes,
thereby relating tasks to an area of difficulty identified in their own searching. The intervention also
involved introducing concepts about searching, demonstrating skills to better search performance,
and allowing time for students to practise new skills. There was a particular focus on assisting students
scripting better search queries as this consistently proved difficult for study participants in the pre-tests
and interviews. Much literature furthermore (Lei et al., 2013; Quintana et al., 2012), suggests that
‘composing relevant search terms to a great extent determines Web searching results (Kuiper et al.,
2008, p.7).
Research findings and discussion
Pre-interview and pre-test
Overall, data obtained from the pre-interview and pre-test suggested that the students are using search
engines in ways reflecting a limited digital literacy. Table 1 presents student responses to statements
during the pre-interview regarding how frequently they conduct certain beneficial search behaviours.
Very few (13%) behaviours were ‘always’ or often’ completed by even most (50%) of the students. By
contrast, nearly half (47%) of the behaviours were reported to ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ be completed by most
students. In the interviews, three of the five students claimed that their schools had never explicitly
taught them or offered lessons on how to use search engines, potentially explaining such habits. Data
from the pre-tests likewise suggested that, although students located information online, their success
was reliant on ad-hoc techniques, and sometimes, on pure luck. Of the nine search tasks on the pre-
test, two were successfully completed by all students. The time taken for the students to perform the
search tasks, successfully or not, ranged from 30 seconds to over 10 minutes in the pre-test and no
correlation was found between time spent and likelihood of a correct response. That is, it was not
consistently students who spent the longest nor the shortest time on a task who successfully completed
the items. As shown, the middle years participants reported, and were observed, searching in flippant,
ineffective ways and identified themselves as acceptably passive.
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Table 1. Responses to pre-interview questions– frequency of search behaviours
Search behaviour Always Often Some-
times
Rarely Never
I use search engines OTHER THAN Google 0% 0% 40% 60% 0%
I come up with sub-questions for the task 0% 0% 80% 20% 0%
I make a list of possible search words before going
online
0% 20% 0% 20% 60%
I use words from the task sheet in my search
phrase
0% 20% 60% 20% 0%
I use inverted commas or speech marks in my
search
0% 0% 20% 40% 40%
I use ‘advanced searcher’ 0% 20% 0% 60% 20%
I look at the number of results my query (search)
produces
20% 20% 0% 20% 20%
I look beyond the rst page of results offered 0% 20% 60% 20% 0%
I change the search terms if unsuccessful 20% 60% 20% 0% 0%
I use the top listed results 20% 20% 60% 0% 0%
I search for key words WITHIN web pages
selected
0% 40% 40% 20% 0%
I look at the URL of web pages 0% 40% 20% 40% 0%
I look for the date any selected web page was last
updated
0% 0% 20% 0% 80%
I look for who WROTE / MADE the web page 0% 0% 0% 80% 20%
I use more than one web page to nd my
information
20% 60% 20% 0% 0%
It was also found that students do not employ many of the in-built tools to aid them at various
stages of online search. When scripting their query, for example, the students typically: do not spend
time considering search terms; fail to use inverted commas to refine queries; fail to use genre specific
tabs (e.g. News tab) to categorise information sought; and fail to use ‘advanced searches’. Once a
search engine results page (SERP) is generated, students again forego many behaviours likely to
increase the efficiency of their online information seeking. The pre-test illustrated that students rarely
consider the number of results offered and have little experience in altering their query to influence
these numbers. The data from the pre-test also showed that students only look at the first page
of results. This contrasted student claims they look beyond the first page ‘of ten’ (1 respondent) or
‘sometimes’ (3 respondents) in the pre-interview. Such inconsistency in what students report as their
searching behaviour and their behaviours in practice may reflect an awareness of literacies desirable
in an online searcher, albeit those not acted upon. Furthermore, the choice of site from the SERP is
not, students report, influenced by who created the website or when it was last updated; that is, by
any dimensions of critical literacy on their part. This finding was strengthened by data obtained in
the pre-test during which time all students entered blogs like answers.com, where content goes largely
unchecked. Again, students have available to them at this part of the search, information (e.g. a URL
address) which would prove beneficial, but do not use it. Such findings reinforce the passive stance
students take when searching online.
The pre-interview also produced data which aided in understanding the way that students interact
with search engines and the way they view their part in the process. The results offered by their choice
of stylised images in the pre-interview reflected a common belief that they play a passive role when
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searching. As seen in Table 2, when the scenario given relates to students manipulating hardware (e.g.
installing a printer or adjusting volume), four of the students chose Drawing B, which represents an
active user. Similarly, students chose Drawing B (reflecting an active role) more often than not when
asked to describe using Facebook or YouTube to search. When the scenario involves searching for
information via a search engine like Google, however, 3 of the students selected the more passive user
in Drawing A.
Table 2. Responses to pre-interview questions– your role when using a computer
Scenario Given Drawing A selected Drawing B selected
Installing a new printer 20% 80%
Turning the volume down 20% 80%
Copying a le to a USB 20% 80%
Using a shopping center touch screen 60% 40%
Using a banking website to check balance 60% 40%
Searching YouTube for a video clip 20% 80%
Searching Facebook for a friend 40% 60%
Searching Google for information on a school
assignment
60% 40%
Intervention
The two-hour intervention lesson aimed at increasing the search literacies of middle years students by
exposing them explicitly to searching skills. It introduced students to skills likely to remain beneficial in
an ever-changing digital platform such as recognising website sources via UR L addresses and writing
better search queries using quotation marks and search operators like ‘not’, ‘or’ and ‘site:’. Keyboard
shortcuts including CTRL F were also discussed in terms of their ability to improve efficiency. In
addition, students were asked to consider the fluid nature (and organisation) of content online, as well
as the contextualised and time-dependent qualities of the results offered by search engines.
The first ‘hands on’ activity asked students to physically categorise not 60 trillion, but 12 simple
cue-cards without assistance. An obvious three categories were initially evident in the cards (animals,
modes of transport and countries). Students performed the task with ease but were challenged to
recognise many other ways the cards could be sorted based on new additional categories. When the
card ‘kangaroo’ was placed together with the ‘Australia’ card for example, students were quick to
assemble the remaining cards in a similar fashion; whereby animals were associated with their country
of origin. This activity acted as a catalyst for discussions regarding just how many ways 60 trillion
pages could be sorted, and reminded students of the importance to actively and aptly script search
terms. Students were also asked why (as demonstrated) the word ‘Airline’ was ‘auto-filled’ by Google
when the word ‘Malaysia’ was typed into the search bar. Most were quick to recognise the cause;
the event of the missing Malaysian airline plane MH370 which had dominated the news media in
Australia for weeks immediately prior to the intervention. Students were helped to realise that the
A B
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same query ‘Malaysia’, typed a month prior would not have been ‘auto filled’ by the word ‘airline’.
Educating students about the fluid nature of online content not only increases their digital literacy, but
justifies their need to play an active and informed role when scripting searches.
It was anticipated that for the middle years participants to appreciate, and ideally adopt, some of
the introduced skills, the lesson would have to involve a level of ‘unlearning’ of previously utilised
skills. Several activities in the intervention required students to ‘unlearn’ or disrupt their prior habitual
searching techniques. Most students (3) in the pre-intervention interviews, for example, admitted to
rarely’ or ’neverconsidering possible search terms prior to typing their query. Indeed, the interviews
indicated that students conducted no activity prior to typing their query. Such behaviours likely reflect
a belief on behalf of the students that ‘the onus is on the search tool’ rather than themselves during
online information seeking; a belief once again positioning the searcher as passive (Georgas, 2013,
p.177). Encouraging students to physically write a list of possible search terms prior to going online
acts as a precursor to them later, internalising the process as more advanced searchers. The intervention
in this way challenged students’ previous search behaviours by asking them to conduct more steps,
not fewer, when searching the web. Getting students to attempt to come up with not one, but 26
alternative search terms (one for each letter of the alphabet) for a particular informational need was
met with excitement and proved effective in inciting a level of ‘unlearning’ on their behalf regarding
scripting and re-scripting search queries.
The pre-tests also showed an inability among students to alter their search terms to manipulate the
number (and often therefore, accuracy) of results offered by search engines. After exposing students to
the idea that frequently ‘less is more’ when it comes to search terms (and that using natural language
questions is also often ineffective), students were asked to imagine they were on a sinking ship and
must continue to reduce a distress signal to fewer and fewer words. This activity was also met with
much enthusiasm and again, served to introduce the need to ‘unlearn’ old habits such as using whole
questions as search queries.
Finally, to get students to recognise their position of power when searching, recognition not
reflected by the results of the pre-tests and interviews, students were introduced to different types of
searches (informational; navigational; transactional). It was envisioned that if students increasingly
took the time to first consider their motivations to search, the importance of their role in search may
be foregrounded.
The lesson described above served as a potential catalyst in changing middle years students’
use of search engines;
view of themselves when using search engines; and
their attitude towards skills-based lessons like those in the intervention.
Post-interview and post-test
During their post-interviews, all students reported their use of search engines having changed since
the intervention. Such changes were also witnessed in the post-tests. These changes did not, however,
necessarily improve their success in searching, nor alter the way they viewed their role as searcher.
Nonetheless, every participant spoke positively about the potential for further exposure to such lessons
involving explicit search engine skills.
As in the pre-test, there appeared no correlation between the type of search tasks performed and
their search success post the intervention. Other changes were, however, observable. Prior to the
intervention, some students scripted search queries framed as questions or whole sentences. After the
intervention, no student utilised this limiting strategy. The screen capture recordings also revealed
students applying some of the query writing tips provided in the intervention including the use of
inverted commas and shortcuts like ‘site:’ and CTR L F. Despite this acceptance, however, no student
was witnessed applying these tips in a manner that improved their overall search success. Some
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promising new behaviours were, however, observed. Students were frequently seen, for example, re-
phrasing their search queries prior to a results page being displayed. Such timing suggests they were
not passively responding to any incorrect or un-useful information the browser displayed, but rather,
actively and pre-emptively reflecting on their query and ways to improve it. Once faced with a results
page or specific web site, students in the post-test again displayed some new habits. There was a
reduction, for example, in the number of instances groups chose ‘blogs’ or similar sites.
Regarding searcher role, Table 3 shows the stylised images students chose to describe their
interaction with a computer in the same manner as prior to the intervention. Only minor variations
are witnessed when compared with those selected in the pre-interviews (Table 2). Students continued
to view their role as largely ‘active’ (choosing Drawing B) when manipulating hardware. There was
also little change between pre- and post-results for the statements referring to searching Google.
Somewhat surprisingly though, while 80% of students saw themselves as ‘passive’ (Drawing A) when
searching for a video in the post test, 40% saw themselves in this way when searching for a recipe. This
may reflect a newfound understanding on the students’ behalf that searches can differ, but ultimately
does not reflect a strong acceptance of their (necessarily) active role when seeking information online.
Table 3. Reponses to post-interview questions– your role when using a computer
Scenario Given Drawing A selected Drawing B selected
Installing a new scanner 20% 80%
Adjusting the screen brightness 20% 80%
Copying a le to a CD 0% 100%
Using a Theme Park touch screen 100% 0 %
Using a transport website to top up your bus pass
balance
60% 40%
Searching Instagram for a friend’s photo 20% 80%
Searching Google video for an instructional lm 80% 20%
Searching Google for a recipe 40% 60%
Implications and conclusion
Findings from this study showed that the middle years students do not use search engines in class for
explicit skills lessons or lessons where effective use of the net itself is the focus. Their digital literacy
in this area (or lack thereof) has resulted from repeatedly ‘searching to learn’ and very rarely ‘learning
to search’. It was found, nonetheless, that middle years students are willing to change their usage
after exposure to explicit skills. The intervention showed that students perceive benefit in being slowly
taught how to use search engines quickly. It also revealed that they are not satisfied with mere time
online in class and would prefer if they were taught explicit skills. This reflects recent findings from the
OECD (2015) that the type of problem solving skills required when students navigate complex online
texts are specific and hence, best learned in context. Though it was found a single intervention lesson
was not sufficient to perfect the searching skills of the participants, students expressed an appreciation
for the intervention and attempted the skills exposed to them. Several recommendations can be made
regarding the nature of beneficial lessons in future based on data collected in the study.
Lessons must be built on a strong knowledge regarding the existing skillset of the middle years
students. Despite prevalent beliefs that ‘digital natives’ already know how to use search engines, data
from this study suggest this is a hazardous assumption and one that does not accurately reflect the
existing skills of today’s middle years student. If curriculum developers and teachers continue to
assume that students are more proficient in online searching than they are, there is real risk that
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individuals will be disadvantaged, and that Australia will forego the countless opportunities online
information can offer.
Lessons must also be explicit and ongoing. Much data from this research indicated that students
prefer, and benefit from, lessons that specifically address skills to utilise when searching the World
Wide Web. This concurs with previous work (Davidson, 2011; Eynon & Geniets, 2012) which
suggests simply giving students time online is not enough to support them in developing crucial
literacies for their digital future. Beckman et al. (2014) suggest it is quite concerning, in fact, ‘that
education policies and schools are overlooking the opportunity [] to expand students’ experience
with technology in formal learning contexts’ (p.18). This is particularly true of search engine use,
that is, when utilising web browsers to gain information, given evidence that it increasingly replaces
other forms of information seeking (Schroeder, 2014), and correlates with several educational benefits
such as those mentioned earlier (Schroeder, 2015; van Deursen & van Dijk, 2010). If nothing else,
when students are able to quickly and accurately find information online (both in and outside of the
classroom), it enables greater time to be spent on actually utilising the information on more higher-
order thinking tasks.
The students in this study appreciated activities which introduced them to a variety of online skills
with which to do a variety of online searches, as well as those helping them understand the nature of
the net and ways that search engines organise information. The current intervention lesson’s emphasis
on writing effective search queries, though justified (Kuiper et al., 2008, Portmann, Kaufman & Graf,
2012) could have been complemented with other activities, time permitting. Given it proved harder
to change student attitudes than behaviours, for example, activities more explicitly discussing their
attitudes towards both search and their role in it could prove beneficial. Lessons regarding effective
use of mobile phones when searching the Web may also be advantageous.
Lastly, given the current findings that teachers can be influential in addressing the shortcomings
of our middle years searchers, it would be remiss not to advocate further training for teachers in
effective search engine use. Surely, in order to equip ‘students with a repertoire of tools and cognitive
capabilities [necessary] to live in a technologically oriented society’, teachers must first possess same
(Ng, 2012, p.1077). Research in Australia suggests that many teachers currently do not possess these
skills, necessitating a call for further training in this area (Macpherson, 2013). Ladbrook and Probert
(2011) stress ‘the importance of addressing students’ information literacy skills […] by developing the
knowledge and skills of their teachers, cannot be understated’ (p.118). This study is, notably, limited
by its sample size and experimental methodologies. Generalisations cannot be made from five students
therefore, a larger sample size would have benefited the results. Moreover, reliance upon self-reporting
measures in interview could serve to bias the data collected.
This research showed some change in the online searching behaviours of the participants post
exposure to explicit skills, but there was little to no change in the way the students viewed their role in
the search process. Despite these shortcomings, it can be concluded that middle years students benefit
from explicit teaching episodes to improve their search engine skills and therefore research skills,
better equipping them for the future.
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Renee Morrison is a doctoral candidate at Grifth University, Brisbane, Australia. She holds a Masters of
Education and has more than 14 years’ teaching experience. Her research focuses on online technologies
and their capacity to assist educators and students reach their full potential in the 21st century. Her
work also investigates alternative education systems like home-schooling and the relationship between
ICT use and effective pedagogies. She has experience in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies,
particularly Critical Discourse Analysis.
Georgina Barton is an Associate Professor of literacies and pedagogy in the School of Teacher Education
and Early Childhood at the University of Southern Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. She is currently
President of the ALEA Meanjin Local Council and an ALEA Fellow. Georgina organises the Meanjin Young
Writers’ Camp – an event she very much enjoys. She has also just commenced as a member of the
editorial review board for the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.
... Drawing B represents the human directing the interaction, an 'active' user. As previously reported (Morrison and Barton, 2018), when the scenario related to manipulating hardware, for instance installing a printer or adjusting volume, most students chose Drawing B, representing an active user. Similarly, students chose the 'active user' more often than not when describing using Facebook or YouTube to search. ...
... Scripting queries to a great extent determines search results (Kuiper et al., 2008), so these findings strengthen Bilal and Gwizdka's (2018) suggestion that educators must explicitly teach how to script and rescript search queries. Indeed, findings from both Spain (Quintana et al., 2012) and Australia (Morrison and Barton, 2018) reveal that students will change their scripting practices post teacher intervention. When setting students a search task, let them choose the topic as often as possible but define very specific criteria for the search. ...
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Book
Assuming no knowledge of linguistics, Understanding Digital Literacies provides an accessible and timely introduction to new media literacies. It supplies readers with the theoretical and analytical tools with which to explore the linguistic and social impact of a host of new digital literacy practices. Each chapter in the volume covers a different topic, presenting an overview of the major concepts, issues, problems and debates surrounding the topic, while also encouraging students to reflect on and critically evaluate their own language and communication practices. Features include: • coverage of a diverse range of digital media texts, tools and practices including blogging, hypertextual organisation, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, websites and games. • an extensive range of examples and case studies to illustrate each topic, such as how blogs have affected our thinking about communication, how the creation and sharing of digital images and video can bring about shifts in social roles, and how the design of multiplayer online games for children can promote different ideologies. • a variety of discussion questions and mini-ethnographic research projects involving exploration of various patterns of media production and communication between peers, for example in the context of Wikinomics and peer production, social networking and civic participation, and digital literacies at work. • end of chapter suggestions for further reading and links to key web and video resources. • a companion website providing supplementary material for each chapter, including summaries of key issues, additional web-based exercises, and links to further resources such as useful websites, articles, videos and blogs. This book will provide a key resource for undergraduate and graduate students studying courses in new media and digital literacies. © 2012 Rodney H. Jones and Christoph A. Hafner. All rights reserved.
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