Digital literacy 1: Googling Aussie medical students

Whilst reading through the March 2011 copy of BJET (British Journal of Educational Technology) I came across an interesting study which raised issues relating to digital literacy. As a reminder, ‘digital literacy’ is a combination of functional ICT skills + critical thinking + collaboration and social awareness, primarily when online.

Terry Judd and Gregor Kennedy from the University of Melbourne asked medical students about the resources they used for biomedical inquiries. Interestingly, they discovered that students greatly relied on Google and Wikipedia. This was despite the students also rating these resources as the least reliable of the information resources available to them. The free and easy access they had to online peer-reviewed journals was the least used online resource.

Judd and Kennedy went on to say that:

    “Students’ use of all sites’ search tools was unsophisticated. Despite being avid users of online information and search tools, the students targeted in this study appeared to lack the requisite information-seeking skills to make the most of online resources.”

This is worrying for two reasons: first because these young medics are going to be our doctors all too soon, and I want them to know the correct information before they start practicing on me! Second, because it goes to show that a lack of digital literacy skills are present in young people from all academic strata.

Perhaps more controversially, I think it also suggests that Universities need to promote better use of online journal portals, and that those portals themselves should make inroads to become more usable and visually appealing (often the interfaces are horrific). As a visual example, which of these two pages would you feel most likely to engage with when you’re quickly looking for information?

Web of science login

Web of science login screen

Google homepage

Google homepage

The problem with portals like Web of Science, in my opinion, is that they are almost too sophisticated. Sure, the librarians who helped to design them are a whiz at boolean searches, but I bet 98% of users have no idea, and more to the point are almost always looking for resources that need a simple search option.

You can read the abstract and access the full article here.