Research and the Internet – Are we getting smarter?

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I have just finished reading a thought-provoking article from the American Psychological Association regarding research into whether internet searching makes us feel smarter than we truly are.

It would seem that it does!  Apparently the research would suggest that we gain an inflated sense of our own knowledge, even when we don’t find the answer to what we’re looking for, after the physical act of searching the internet. However, it appears this is not the case when researchers provided the link to a website to enable subjects to answer specific questions.  It is the act of searching that makes us feel all-knowing.

Lead researcher Matthew Fisher suggests that as a result of the act of reading a book or talking with an expert we are more engaged in the research process than when we are searching the internet and so it becomes apparent to us when we have gaps in our knowledge.  This then leads us to investigate further to find the answer. “With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know.”

So what are the implications of this on education and our future generations? And will it become more obvious as our current crop of young people who seem surgically connected to their smart phones become adults?

My initial thoughts are that we need to be designing lessons that require a level of critical thinking that demands our students to engage with the material they find, and that we should not be too quick to physically or mentally throw out our non-fiction collections.

We also need to continue to engage in learning conversations with our students as well as encourage those conversations to take place between peers, and demand not only reasoned and cited answers to questions but that further questions need to be asked in the quest for new knowledge.

It could become a dangerous world indeed when decisions are being made by people who think they know everything, but in fact know very little at all.

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4 thoughts on “Research and the Internet – Are we getting smarter?

  1. Very interesting indeed. I agree that the act of discovering answers oneself is very rewarding and learning how to navigate through what can be a sea of irrelevant information on the Internet, and to come up with something relevant is very satisfying. I suppose the Encyclopaedia on the bookshelf previously served a similar purpose, but the reader didn’t require the skill to recognise relevant and non-relevant information. It was served up on a platter. I cannot help worry though, that I am personally no longer actively committing things to memory. At the back of my mind is a growing awareness that I don’t need to remember all facts and the figures. They are only ever as far away from my memory as my access to Google. Will remembering something oneself become unnecessary?

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    1. I know exactly what you you mean here Melanie. I do think we have to be careful to differentiate between what is extraneous information that can be accessed when required, and information which deepens our knowledge and understanding of the world around us and our interaction with it. I worry that we (as a society) are becoming too quick to accept other’s opinions as fact instead of questioning the whys, wheres and hows of a statement. Lots to think about and mull over, not only for ourselves, but for our work as librarians.

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  2. Very interesting reading and comments. I was just thinking about these issues. My husband read a post to me this morning that offered the solution to being held up at the cashpoint – apparently if you type in your pin number backwards it allows the cash to be issued but also alerts the police ( I am rendered speechless). My other thought was about a quiz night I attended – each of the answers was a simple google away on my phone, so how did I resist and just use my memory?

    Let’s hope we librarians can, with our everyday efforts, instil some information into our students that does become knowledge.

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    1. I think I’d be so stressed about being robbed that I’d be unable to think about what my pin number was backwards!!

      Quiz nights are a great reason for remembering stuff! It’s not just about how quick someone can type into Google ….

      I have recently been working on a programme for revision with our high achieving students in Year 11 and 12 (a post coming about that soon) and memory techniques is part of that. Students need to exercise their mental muscles in order to excel in their exams. All part of the learning process

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