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 grey squirrels look like.”
Me: “So why don’t you google grey 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 they 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 myselves: my old school/gut and my new media self.
Old school/gut 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 grey squirrels look like?
Old school/gut 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 grey squirrel.What if some of them you’re looking at aren’t actually grey squirrels? How do you know they’re grey 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 students will take the path of least resistance and over-rely on images for the bulk of their research every time they need to do research.
Your thoughts? Am I over-reacting or noticing a troublesome trend?