Surfing Blind: a study into the effects of exposing young adolescents to explicit search engine skills

Year: 2016

Author: Morrison, Renee

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The Internet has provided today’s students with the world’s greatest library. It is in their homes, their schools and increasingly even in their pockets. Yet this powerful educational tool, with its practically infinite opportunities, is increasingly reported to be going largely under-utilized. Studies in educational research are focusing less on a discrepancy of internet access between the haves and have-nots, and instead turning their attention to a ‘secondary’ or ‘new digital divide’, measuring differences in web-based skill. Several studies report a skill-deficit exhibited by young adolescents when using online search engines specifically. Little is known about the potential benefits, however, of exposing students to explicit search engines skills, nor their desire for such exposure and the way they view their role when searching online. This paper discusses data obtained from a mixed method study exploring the degree to which exposure to explicit skills for using search engines affects young adolescents’ online searching. It seeks to provide a better understanding of any skill deficits present and the potential for improved searching by analyzing students’ online searching behaviours through a semiotic lens. The value of semiotics in researching educational practices has long been established and there exists some work on semiotics and computer systems. No hitherto study, however, has attempted to utilise semiotic theory to design, and measure the efficacy of, lessons aimed at improving online searching skills. Semiotics benefits this unique study through its provision of a language with which to discuss the changing role of students when interacting with digital technologies and the different communication inherent when using search engines. This study discusses the participants’ poor searching abilities in light of their lack of previous exposure to explicit skills and confirms a commonly reported misplaced confidence in their existing skillset. It reveals a tendency on the students’ behalf to view their role as passive and subordinate when conducting online searches, and a reluctance to change this view despite intervention. In addition, the research identifies time, and student perception of time, as having an influence on adolescents’ searching behaviours. The study found that young adolescents are willing to change and attempt to improve their searching behaviours post exposure to explicit skills.