In the game of middle school student research, pictures are winning and words are losing. I have noticed increasingly that students, when they are researching a topic for a writing assignment, spend a lot of time not reading articles. Many spend their time looking at pictures. Or watching videos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed students scrolling down full screens of thumbprint images. Here’s a typical conversation we would have as I walked around the room and noticed students doing their research with Google Images.
Me: “What are you doing?”
Student: “I’m doing my research.”
Me: “What are you trying to find out?”
Student: “What gray squirrels look like.”
Me: “So why don’t you Google gray squirrels?”
Student: “I did.”
Me: “But Google it in web search and find articles.”
Student: “But I Googled it here instead and now I’m just looking at the pictures to find out what gray squirrels look like.”
And that got me thinking because the student had a point. I think. It made me wonder whether perusing images could be more authentic research than reading. So I had a debate with my selves: my old school self and my new media self.
Old school self: No, reading is better.
New media self: But couldn’t the result of reading simply be ingesting and recording what someone else has written about what gray squirrels look like?
Old school self: Yes, true, but don’t forget that in looking at all these images, you are just looking at what someone else has decided for whatever reason is a gray squirrel.What if some of them you’re looking at aren’t actually gray squirrels? How do you know they’re gray squirrels?
New media self: Well, in an article, how do we know the author actually knew what he was writing about?
Old school self: That’s why we choose authoritative sources. “National Geographic,” for example, instead of answers.com.
Authoritative sources. There’s really the issue. It seems kids don’t know how to locate authoritative sources. Looking at images is easier. And then they get stuck. Scrolling endlessly through mind-numbing screenfuls of tiny images.
True, an exhausting variety of visual information, whether it’s the printed word, the image, or the video, simply comes with the Internet territory. So why not use it all to benefit our research? Perhaps.
The thing is this: I’m just afraid middle school students will take the path of least resistance and over-rely on images for the bulk of their learning every time they need to do research.
Your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or noticing a troublesome trend?