When I studied engineering in the early 1990s, I spent hours sorting through databases of engineering abstracts to carefully narrow down results using Boolean searches. After that, I’d have to wait days for the hard copy of the technical papers I ordered to be delivered from the central library.
Today’s world of powerful Web-based search engines presents students with a dramatically different information landscape from the one I experienced. Students go about their research with the assumption that they will able to find answers to their questions almost instantly. Yet, the instant access to information through search engines including Google is a double-edged sword. While students might be able to find a wide range of information such as what time a store opens or SparkNotes for Plato’s The Republic, many students aren’t able to discern good information from bad information or the validity of sources. This was recently demonstrated by College of Charleston Professor Bing Pan, who conducted a study that showed that today’s students generally rely on Web pages at the top of Google search results as the main test for validity.