94 Percent Of Teachers Say Students Equate “Research” With Using Google

computer-educationIt’s almost unanimous: 94 percent of U.S. teachers say their students equate “research” with using Google or other search engines — more so than Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias.

But teachers are less sure that their students are effective searchers, and they’re more skeptical than most adults about the accuracy and trustworthiness of information that’s found via search engines.

The data comes from a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project. Nearly 2,500 middle and high school teachers — the majority of whom teach Advanced Placement courses — took the online survey this spring. As a group, the teachers say that online search is a mixed bag with both pros and cons for the classroom and their students.

Search In The Classroom

There’s no question that search is impacting the classroom. A whopping 94 percent of teachers say their students equate “research” with using Google and other search engines. That’s substantially more than the 75 percent that say their students are “very likely” to use Wikipedia and online encyclopedias. More traditional research sources, like textbooks and librarians, are way down the list.


Despite the prevalence of search engine use, teachers are concerned about their students’ ability to do research online. Sixty-two percent of teachers gave their students high grades when it comes to their ability to use effective search terms — the other 38 percent gave students a “fair” or “poor” grade for searching skills.

Beyond that, only 52 percent of teachers say their students have a good understanding of how search results are generated.

Trust & Search Engine Results

Another concern is the accuracy and trustworthiness of content that ranks well in Google and other search engines. Only 40 percent of teachers say their students are good at assessing the quality and accuracy of information they find via online research.

And as for the teachers themselves, only five percent say “all/almost all” of the information they find via search engines is trustworthy — far less than the 28 percent of all adults who say the same.


With that in mind, the vast majority of teachers surveyed — 91 percent — say that a top priority in today’s schools should be teaching students how to judge the quality of information. Many teachers even said that they’ve been spending class time talking to students about how search engines work, how to grade the reliability of online information and how to improve search skills.

It’s a fascinating study overall, perhaps more so for any readers that — like me — work in the search industry and have school-aged children at home.

You can read the full report via Pew’s website.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features: Analysis | Google: Web Search | Search & Society: General | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://twitter.com/fims01 Tom – FIMS

    I am from the generation which did not have Google as it is now whilst studying, however would still advise the use of books, as still more stringent proof reading, etc than a lot of stuff online.

    Ensure that stuff found online is verified offline as well.

  • http://twitter.com/sharithurow sharithurow

    Good article and great study. As both a teacher/instructor and an aunt, I have found that students rely very heavily on research online and do not know how to show proper citation.

    I wish teachers, instructors, and professors would make every effort to show students how to properly cite and use online content and to show how to conduct effective searches online.

    My 2 cents.

  • roseberry

    Google is not a source – it leads you to sources. A teacher’s job is to help students understand which of those sources that Google leads you to are good and which aren’t. Even before the internet, there were plenty of sources that shouldn’t be used in research (certain magazines, interviews, etc.) and yes, there were a lot fewer of them, but students still had to learn reputable vs. non-reputable sources.

    As for the debate about online vs. book, I think it’s time to put that to bed. 10 years ago there was probably more to be said for research done with offline sources, but now with most major journals having their content online and Google scholar and book search getting you virtually any source electronically that you could get in print, i don’t really see the difference – except that maybe the online version can be updated more frequently and kept current.

    And I’d agree with Shari – the issue isn’t where the sources are, it’s the adaptation of teaching styles to teach a different type of citation. It’s more complicated with a lot more content to sift through (and weed out) and it’s not always cut and dry. That’s not an altogether easy thing to get across to students who believe everything they read on Wikipedia (which is a decent place to start digging, but in itself is not a source).

  • Dan Mimis

    All the research tools mentioned in the first table can be saved in a DiCheetal group. That will allow students and their teachers to get results about 100X faster — every time they search! — than using a simple search engine. DiCheetal is also the only search tool (we call it Searchelerator) one can use to identify and use only safe/trusted sites that will deliver the most trustworthy info available.

  • http://www.velezmedia.com/ Alexandra Velez

    In 1997, my teachers taught us you can’t believe everything you read online. :) The background of author or source of the article was heavily emphasized back then to sort wheat from chaff.

    In 2003, I had access a wide variety academic journals with peer-reviewed articles at our finger tips thanks to the internet. Questia was pretty helpful in certain subjects.

    While searching Google doesn’t equate to research, it certainly is helpful for finding credible information on many subjects. I still enjoy starting my research online.

  • http://www.submitshop.co.uk/blog Submitshop UK

    Great post you have shared with us. I think online source is
    the best way to learn things if we know how to find quality content so it’s the
    duty of the teacher & instructor to make their students perfect in search.

  • http://www.socialbakers.com/ Peter Kelly

    Teachers on my high school, and then on college, always told me that it’s not so important to know things, but you always have to know, where to find this information. It comes down to “being a good Googler”. Yes, Google is not a source of information, it is only a medium leading you to the sources of information and one must always know how to differentiate the reliable sources from the unreliable ones.

  • vargh

    The important part is not citation but understanding how to know and think about who created a source, why, whether it’s been reviewed, and how much it can be relied on..

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