Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Books vs. Internet - What Influences Student Choice?

On Monday evening after a bad car shopping experience (read more here) I went to the local Border's bookstore to browse and decompress for a few minutes. As I was wandering through the computer and business sections I came across a young man (13ish, I'd guess) and his mother looking for a book about writing html code. The young man had in his hand a print out of a book title and isbn for book he had located on the Border's website. That short observation made me wonder what makes today's student choose a book over the Internet when looking for reference information? I put this question to my study hall students yesterday. What follows is a summation of my students' responses.

About half of my students believe that books are generally more credible than the Internet. When asked why, most said because that's what their teachers and parents tell them. A few students mentioned that they have teachers who do not allow Wikipedia to be used for any research. Some of the students said they use books for research because they do not have Internet access at home. Another response was that books are useful for having a hard-copy that they can look at while writing or creating a presentation without having to toggle between browser windows or applications. The one response that seemed universal was that books help them remember things. When I asked one student to clarify, she said that if she can put her hands on something she's more likely to remember it. I thought this was a telling statement about our attention economy.

My students responses to the question of why they would choose a reference book over the Internet got me thinking about my own attention span and the attention of adults in general. Just last week I was reminded by Mark Spahr of how quickly we forget things in our attention economy. I had forgotten the name of a blogger who had stirred a little discussion a while back. I thought the discussion had been months ago, but when I sent out a Twitter asking for help to locate the name, Mark sent me the link I needed which was from April. How quickly had I forgotten? In four weeks what was a raging a discussion became a distant memory. Is this the same for our students? I think so. If nothing else, having a physical document may help students remember things just a little bit longer than they would without them.