Avoiding “Just Google it!” with your students

In a recent staff meeting we kicked off our first professional development season, which focuses on learning engagements. One aim of the plenary was to begin to get teachers thinking about how they use technology in the classroom. The cartoon clip below was used as a conversation starter to get teachers to think about how they use technology with student inquiry.

The purpose was to understand that simply asking our students to “just Google it” is not great practice. Discussion centered on that we often refer to students as being ‘digital natives’ but while our students may have grown up with today’s technology, many of them do not know how to use it effectively, particularly for academic purposes. While evidence appears inconclusive about whether school libraries are in decline, owing to the online alternatives, my discussions with students indicate that in some classes they never use the library for research purposes. If this is the case with some classes, how well are teachers guiding students when conducting online inquiry?

Our responsibility, when asking students to inquire or perform any form of online research, is to teach them how to use the technology both efficiently and effectively. So, what do we need in schools to make this happen?

There are two key starting points:

1. Developing the skills for both students and teachers to search effectively on the web

Some teachers need training in understanding how search engines work and the different search engines available for use, their advantages and disadvantages. Simple guidance such as this web page from Purdue University is a good starting point or this great explainer video from commoncraft or Google are good starting points. Once teachers fully understand how to use search engines themselves, then they should be able to effectively relay this information to their students and support them.

2. Providing students with structured inquiry

There are different levels of challenge that can be given to inquiry using online sources:

  1. The teacher provides some online resources for the students to directly access. This saves time-wasting but, unfortunately, does not improve student skills in finding information.
  2. Teachers can require the students to use at least one teacher online source and one that they find themselves online.
  3. Teachers can require students to find different sources from the web: an image, a video, a cartoon clip, a news article.

No matter how good the structured inquiry tasks may be, without the necessary skills to use the technology tools at their disposal, students will not be able to undertake the task to the best of their ability.

Originally posted at: http://richardbruford.com

Connect with me @richard_bruford


  1. Elizabeth said:

    I was really interested to read this as I am about to write a masters dissertation on this topic. I am a librarian working for a Schools’ Library Service and I fully agree with you that teachers need training themselves in how to research properly but you don’t say who should provide the training. A qualified school librarian has the skills to train your teachers and provide the support for your students too. I find that the problem with students ‘Googling’ is that many teachers don’t use the school library themselves so expectation is not very high. One way to encourage use would be to require the students to provide information from a book resources as well as on-line resources.

    On-line research has definitely taken over from going to the library but children still need to be taught how to find information whether it is on-line or from a book. Many school libraries buy on-line resources that need an expert to explain the best way to get what you are looking for. Online database still don’t have the capabilities of Google and searching them takes thought and understanding.

    Why are their barriers to teachers and librarian working together? Their goals are the same and they both have different levels of expertise but getting them to work together seems very difficult. Is there a way of raising awareness of the expertise of school librarians that many teachers are not tapping into.

    I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

    April 19, 2015
    • Hi Elizabeth. You make some very good points here. This is definitely an area where the librarian in a school has significant value. In my school, for example, the librarian is a key player in supporting research projects and our academic honesty policy. Some teacher do bring students to the library for research sessions – our librarian is a big proponent of students using a research diary. The librarian can also push-in to classrooms too and we are just embarking on that process. I do not believe that the librarian should just be in the library anymore. You are correct in that teachers can require students to also consult a book as part of their research beyond just online sources. Also, I think that the librarian having access to the school’s written curriculum is vital, so that they can see where they can make a difference and initiate conversation with teachers in how the library can support students. Why then, perhaps, are teachers not using the librarian or library as much anymore? This possibly could be put down to convenience and complacency on the part of the teacher but, also, schools need either proactive librarians to go to teachers and department chairs or strong curriculum heads who can nurture these conversations as a necessity not just an option. Thank you for contributing to the conversation.

      April 19, 2015
  2. Elizabeth said:

    Just noticed my spelling error ‘their’ instead of ‘there’… I do know the difference 🙂

    April 19, 2015
  3. Thomas said:

    After reading this article I realized how blessed my school system is to have Computer Resource Specialists whose job it is to teach staff and students about technical applications. As a CRS I teach the students and staff how to use google more effectively, how to find quality information, and also how to evaluate sites for credibility. Here are some of the tips that I use in order to help teachers and students use google more effectively.
    I have an issue with the term “digital natives” and what people really mean when they call students that. My staff believe that digital natives understand how computers work and can find or fix anything computer related however this is not the case. I have witnessed students skills with computers decrease because they don’t get taught computer in the classroom because teachers think that the children already know everything. For example many teachers are “automotive natives” but how much do they really know about fixing or working on a car? So why do we assume that students who were born into the digital age are any different? I am by no means a person who is against labeling, however in this case I am extremely opposed to the term digital natives.
    Just a few of my thoughts after reading this article. Thanks for article.

    April 20, 2015
    • Hi Thomas, thank you for the contribution and sharing what is working well in your school. I agree with your points about digital natives and we have to be mindful of how we can slip into thinking that students know everything about technology – though the learning moments need to be set in a significant and relevant context for students to really take note of how they can use technological tools to really maximise their learning. For students to research effectively, we have to explicitly teach these skills in a timely manner. Best wishes.

      April 20, 2015
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    April 22, 2015
  5. Matthew Abbott said:

    I’m a great student and I’m really surprised how often I hear TAs day this to students when we have questions. I am returning to academia after a six year hiatus in the workforce, and I’m really disturbed by the trends that I’m seeing. Professors at this school I’m attending pile on the homework and are very vague about how to accomplish the tasks required, there’s an over reliance on TAs and very arbitrary grading, and the students are prone to using logical fallacies that would have been squished in my high school. The first time I heard “just Google it” from a TA, I thought it was just a joke, and I was appalled when I saw otherwise.

    February 11, 2018
  6. Matthew Abbott said:

    Grad student*. My apologies for the type-o

    February 11, 2018

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