Digital Natives, Curiosity, and Research

On the way to drop my kids off at band camp yesterday morning, Obadiah Parker's cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya" came on Sirius radio. My sixteen year old daughter was amused by the stripped down version of this song and googled the singer from her phone. She learned that he was a songwriter from Arizona, he didn't use his real name, and his open mic night performance of this song had gone viral on YouTube several years ago.

Last night I was surfing around on YouTube and discovered the video below:

Apparently other people are obsessed with Hamilton too! What really excited me about this video was that a kid was so intrigued with the musical that he researched to find errors in the history of the story. He even quoted the playwright and linked the original interview.

These two events made me think about how our students use information to answer their own questions. When I was growing up we did not have instant access to the volume of information available now from any web-connected device. We had to go to a library to find answers to these questions. I think it is amazing that in 2016 my curiosity can be quenched with a simple Google search. However, I think this ready availability of information has made student lazy in the research process. Teachers and students need to consider more when planning and completing research units.

1. Complexity of questions - If a research project can be completed with a simple Google search, the complexity of that research is not good. A decade ago, David Loertscher wrote a book named Ban the Bird Units. He argued that students were not learning quality research skills when they are asked to find simple facts about any given thing, like birds or woodland animals. Of course, for elementary students to learn simple techniques, these units are important. However, if high school students are doing such research, they will not be prepared to answer the complex questions needed in higher education and the workforce.

2. Copyright - If a student is only trying to answer their curiosity, they are not concerned with copyright. If I see a person's name and want to know what they look like, a quick image search that finds copyrighted photos isn't hurting anyone. I wondered, I searched, I learned. But if those images are supposed to be used for a project and I do not check usage rights, there is a concern. Everything on the internet is not free to use and reuse even in an educational setting. Students either ignore or lack instruction on this fact. They need teaching and guidance on copyright issues. Even teachers have questions about copyright. Collaborate on lessons with your librarian to educate yourself and your students before starting that research project.

3. Quality of resources - Although my curiosity can be satisfied with Wikipedia, my AP English Research paper cannot be written from this resource. The internet is full of great information, but very little of it is vetted or reliable in an academic capacity. Students need to look deeper for answers to academic questions than Wikipedia or Teacher should require specific sources and work with their librarians to get access and training for the best research tools available for their content area. 


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