Digital Search Processes of Teens

When conducting a school-related search, there are several approaches that students seem to take. Rather than considering the best possible word choices for their search, students working on a school-related assignment will often paste the assignment question into the search bar or will only use words provided in the text of the assignment itself (Julien and Barker 2009; Fidel et al.1999). Students were also found to begin their searches with very broad search terms and then, after determining the availability of information or the level of interest the student had in the topic, they would narrow their topic of choice accordingly (Chung and Neuman 2007; Barranoik 2001).

Should a search return no satisfactory results to the student, they are likely to alter their search by coming up with a new set of terms, a task students generally found to be challenging (Fidel et al. 1999), or by adding terms to the original search (Barlow, Karnes and Marchionini 1987; Scott and O’Sullivan 2005). Once again, it is interesting to note that similar mistakes first experienced with high school students using CD-ROMs in 1987 are being repeated by teenagers in studies conducted in 2005. This speaks to the continued need for education in information literacy, and to the developmental characteristics of high school students.

It was also found that searches performed by high school students are based on past experiences and habitual information-seeking techniques, regardless of the level of success achieved using these techniques in the past (Shenton 2007). This applied not only to different occasions of searching, but specifically to searches within the same assignment (Scott and O’Sullivan 2005). Studies also suggest that students are likely to find an area of comfort within a given search, usually a particular website, and will conduct any subsequent searches from that area of comfort even if the website is not related to the new search being conducted (Fidel et al. 1999). It was also found that students were comfortable returning to the beginning of their search, especially when their frustrated attempts at finding information resulted in passing through several websites without finding any pertinent information (Scott and O’Sullivan 2005).

When hits are returned from a search, students will skim the list of results, click on seemingly relevant webpages or articles, and then scan or skim the information contained within (Branch 2002; Julien and Barker 2009), often not reading beyond the first screen of the webpage (Fidel et al. 1999). Students were found to make very quick decisions about the results (Chung and Neuman 2007), and would be directed in their search primarily by what was shown on screen (Fidel et al. 1999).