The Research Habits of Digital Kids

The Pew Research Center, along with the College Board and the National Writing Project, recently released the results of a survey of middle and high school teachers on the topic of technology’s influence on research skills of students. (You can read more about the study here at the NWP website or download the whole report from Pew).

The results are not surprising, I think, but they are worth sharing and discussing. A few things become clear from this report and my own daily observations of my students, and I think many of teachers see this in their own classroom: While the Internet and other forms of technology have opened up amazing doors for information and connections for young researchers, it has also created the problem of filtering that flood of information into manageable and useable ideas. The role of the educator in regards to online research is never more necessarily than now, in this information age, particularly around the teaching of reliable sources, navigation strategies, citation of sources and more. We need to be doing more explicit teaching of these practices.

Here are some bits and pieces from the survey overview that stuck out  for me:

Virtually all (99%) AP and NWP teachers in this study agree with the notion that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

The teachers surveyed rated students particularly low on their ability to recognize bias in online content (71% rate them fair or poor), and patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find (78% give ratings of fair or poor).

42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class. At the same time, virtually all teachers surveyed report working in a school that employs internet filters (97%), formal policies about cell phone use (97%) and acceptable use policies or AUPs (97%). The degree to which these different policies impact their teaching varies, with internet filters cited most often as having a “major impact” on survey participants’ teaching (32%), followed by cell phone policies (21%) and AUPs (16%). Teachers in urban areas and those teaching the lowest income students are feeling the impact of these policies more than others. In particular, teachers of students living in poverty are at least twice as likely as those teaching the most affluent students to report these policies having a “major” impact on their teaching.

This infographic from the report gives a good idea of the responses.


These kinds of reports reinforce the need for us as teachers to really bring these skills into our classrooms. Mostly, librarians have been leading the way, and that is great. But all of us need to be finding ways to do more of this, and if you are a Common Core state – with its emphasis on research skills and using sources and synthesis of ideas — you really need to make inroads here. I’ve been doing more and more of this with my own sixth graders, setting the stage for larger research projects in the coming years.

Peace (in the research reflection),

One Comment
  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting study. My experience with sixth graders mirrors the results, as well. I agree that classroom teachers should join the effort to help students navigate the research possibilities offered by technology. It can be overwhelming and explicit guidance will only help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *