ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2009) — Search engine use is not just part of our daily routines; it is also becoming part of our learning process, according to Penn State researchers.
The researchers sought to discover the cognitive processes underlying searching. They examined the search habits of 72 participants while conducting a total of 426 searching tasks. They found that search engines are primarily used for fact checking users’ own internal knowledge, meaning that they are part of the learning process rather than simply a source for information. They also found that people’s learning styles can affect how they use search engines.
“Our results suggest the view of Web searchers having simple information needs may be incorrect,” said Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology. “Instead, we discovered that users applied simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs.”
Jansen said the results of this study provide useful information about how search engine use has evolved over the past decade and clues about how to design better search engines to address users’ learning needs in the future. He and Brian Smith, associate professor information sciences and technology and Danielle Booth, former Penn State student, published their findings in the November issue of Information Processing and Management.
“If we can incorporate cognitive, affective and situational aspects of a person, there is the potential to really move search performance forward,” Jansen said. “At its core, we are getting to the motivational elements of search.”
National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded this research.
The Digital Youth Project, a MacArthur-funded three year, 22 case study, $3.3 million ethnographic study of what kids are doing online, has wound up and published its results. The project was undertaken by the eminent sociologist Mimi Ito and her talented colleagues (including the incomparable danah boyd) and is the largest and most comprehensive study of young peoples’ internet use ever undertaken in the US.
The conclusions are sane, compassionate, and compelling: in a nutshell, the “serious” stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out.” That is to say, all the “time-wasting” social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.
Ito and her team establish a taxonomy of social activity, dividing it first into “peer-driven” and “interest-driven” — the former being what kids do with their real-world friends, the latter being the niche interests that drive them to locate other people who are as fascinated as they are by whatever brand of esoterica they fancy.
Within these two categories, the researchers break things down further into “hanging out” (undirected, social activities), “messing around” (tinkering with media, networks and technologies) and “geeking out” (delving deep into subjects based on global communities of interest) and for each one, they describe the successful and unsuccessful techniques deployed by parents and educators to direct kids’ activities.
All this is explained in a crisp, 55-page white paper, a snappy two-pager, and a full-length book called (appropriately), “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.” All three are available as free downloads, naturally, and the book can also be purchased as a physical object in a year when it’s published.
This project is the best set of research-driven recommendations and observations about young peoples’ use of technology I’ve seen — it’s the perfect antidote to the scare stories of “internet addiction” and pedophiles stalking MySpace, and the endless refrain about “kids today.” If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read.
I’m keenly interested in reading the entire book, but I don’t want to do it on my computer, and I figure a lot of other folks might feel the same way… so I created a PDF version.
I also made an Open Office ODT version for easy conversion to other formats, if you like.