What Students Don’t Know: Mindset Lists and Digital Natives

I had a post on this topic in mind since I read the piece in Inside Higher Ed a few days ago entitled “What Students Don’t Know.” This sample quote sums up a situation that has increasingly become the focus of my teaching and my classes:

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy…The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources…

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies…In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

This is something that bears repeating and deserves to get a lot more attention among educators than it currently does.

In most of my courses that I teach, I have begun to take time to explain what Wikipedia is and how it works, why the top hits in a Google search may not be reliable sources of information, and how to tailor a search so as to produce better results. In one of my classes, identifying reliable information is the central focus, and the final exam involves students being given a question they have never seen before, access to a computer with internet capability, and their finding reliable information to answer the question in the two hour exam time.

Today, when someone needs information, they pull out a device and look it up. And so having information memorized is less crucial – although having some facts is essential to being able to identify reliable sources. But the key skill students need is to be able to tell which of the search results is likely to provide reliable information.

On a related note, another article in Inside Higher Ed illustrates that technological and generational change creating a gap between students and professors is nothing new. Mindset lists have been appearing for many years now, illustrating the things which students either take for granted or have never heard of that sets them apart from their professors. A list of what the class of 1915 thinks would include the following:

  • What Russo-Japanese War?
  • Model T Fords have always been available to the public.
  • Car windows have always been made of isinglass.
  • William Jennings Bryan has always been fat.
  • They have grown up with Coca-Cola.
  • The Babcock Carriage Company has always been working on an electric car.
  • What Boer War?
  • Ragtime music has always been mainstream.
  • Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
  • Player pianos have always been available.
  • Women have always been secretaries.
  • The Toledo, St. Louis and Kansas City Railroad has never run in their lifetime.
  • Sears, Roebuck has always been a larger retailer than A.T. Stewart and has always employed more workers than the beef-tallow-candle industry.

Click through to read the whole thing, which reminds us that generational gaps are nothing new.


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