“I usually click on the first thing that I see.” Asked to clarify how she decides to pick the first result, she emphasized, “Well, I know the ones that are […] in here [pointing to the shaded Sponsored Link section on a Google results page] they’re the most relevant to what I’m looking for.”
Article: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content
I chose this article in thinking about because of its relevance to what we all do as instructors in today’s climate – attempting to reach students and speak a language that they understand, in terms of how they look for information and how they find and decide to use it.
This study was somewhat unique in that instead of looking at the steps people used to evaluate sources after they located them, it focused on how they arrive at those sources in the first place as a component of evaluation. I don’t think the information is necessarily revolutionary – any of us could probably pull similar answers out if asked, but this study is nice in that it validates what we know but don’t always have data to back up, and it is research done not by librarians but by communications researchers, all of whom focus on new media.
If you want a good down and dirty overview, here is an entry about it from ReadWriteWeb –
The research was conducted like a usability test – researchers observed students doing searches for answers to canned questions, audio was recorded, and there was some follow-up.
The reason they focused on how sources were arrived at in the first place was that they felt sources were chosen as much because of where they fell in search results as the results of content evaluation. Some of their related findings that are relevant to us:
- Over 25% of respondents chose sites because they were the first result in a search engine, not because of the site’s content
- Only 10% of respondents even mentioned an author or credentials when completing tasks (“However, examining the screen captures of the tasks being performed makes it clear that even among those participants, none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualifications of the authors whose sites gave them the information they deemed to be providing the best solution for the tasks at hand.”
- Many respondents expressed trust in .org sites, saying that they were more trustworthy than .com sites.
- Among our sample of 102 participants, overall 60% stated, at one point or another that they would contact an institution such as a university or governmental agency for information. Broken down by method of contact, 52% of the sample suggested placing a phone call, while 17% said they would send an email to the organization. Professionals, both medical and educational, were second on the list of those whom participants would contact offline with a fifth of our respondents suggesting that they would pursue this method.
- One of their conclusions was that instructors “must start by recognizing the level of trust that certain search engines and brand names garner from some users and address this in away that is fruitful to a critical overall evaluation of online materials.”
The questions this article made me think about relate to what we can do speak to our students about web evaluation in a way that is relevant to them, and include more of a focus on the search process itself as a component of evaluation. This is where I would like to focus RIOT discussion . . .