Renee over on the Teacher/Librarian Ning posted a question that's fomented an interesting discussion: Are we doing our students a disservice by subscribing to products such as Nettrekker?
I'd like to come down solidly on the "Yes" side of the debate--and I work at a school that purchases Nettrekker.
Students, whatever they think to the contrary, are information illiterate. They're marvels at using technology as social interaction, but virtually clueless (pun intended) about more analytical applications and information access. If it's on Google, it must be good.
I was reading a study online that I really wish I'd bookmarked, as I have no idea where it is now. A university researcher was studying the research habits of college freshmen. Aside from their general problems in framing a research question, one student also complained about not having a list of sites he knew his professors would approve. (You mean I have to THINK?!) My first thought: Here's a kid raised on Nettrekker.
While I can see a case in using it with elementary students, by the time they're in middle school, kids need to taught to navigate the web on their own. They won't have Nettrekker in college--or in life. They need to be taught about portals and search techniques and evaluating sites for authority and relevance. That's a lot of work, so I wonder if one reason Nettrekker and the like are so prevalent is because it makes our job easier? We can turn them loose with a few lessons on Boolean and keywords and there you go. We don't have to worry about porn or peeved parents.
But what do students learn?
From there, it's a small step to pathfinders. As an English teacher, I would have loved having these as a resource. When I show them to the teachers here at school (it's a new concept for them) they rave about them. Students love them, too, because it does a large hunk of the hunting for them. I spend HOURS searching great sites on forensic anthropology or the 1920's. And the students happily click away, never having to worry about whether the site is authoritative or not, because I did that for them.
So I wonder: in the long run, am I helping or hindering? Or maybe there's a medium ground--not every research task has to be a huge project. We can provide them with pathfinder and SIRS WebSelect for small project, but on key projects each year, they do guided digging. We point them to great portals and directories, but they have to find and analyze the sites themselves.
What do you think?