Teachers say the digital age has had a good influence—and a not-so-good influence—on this generation of American teenagers. More than 2,000 middle and high school teachers took an online survey. Researchers also spoke with teachers in focus groups.
Three-quarters of the teachers said the Internet and digital search tools have had a "mostly positive" effect on their students' research habits and skills. But 87 percent agreed that these technologies are creating an "easily distracted generation with short attention spans." And 64 percent said the technologies "do more to distract students than to help them academically." Many students think "doing research" now means just doing a quick search on Google.
The Pew Internet Project did the survey with the College Board and the National Writing Project. A majority of the teachers came from Advanced Placement classes, which provide college-level work for high school students.
Judy Buchanan is deputy director of the National Writing Project and a coauthor of the report. Ms. Buchanan says digital research tools are helping students learn more, and learn faster.
But one problem the survey found is that many students are lacking in digital literacy. In other words, they trust too much of the information they find on the Internet. Judy Buchanan says these students have not developed the skills they need to judge the quality of online information.
"It's just a lot to learn about how to discern credible sources. And it's something that really has to be taught and paid attention to. It's like everything else—in a world in which things can happen quickly, you really do need to have a way to step back, reflect, and analyze the information you have. And teachers can do a lot to teach that."
Another problem the survey found is blamed on something that might not seem like a problem at all: being able to quickly find information online. Teachers say the result is a reduction in the desire and ability of their students to work hard to find answers. They say students are overly dependent on search engines and do not make enough use of printed books or research librarians.
Many teachers are also concerned that the Internet makes it easy for students to copy work done by others instead of using their own abilities.