Study: Not All Kids Are Computer Whizzes

A study reveals that kids have more trouble searching on the Internet than we may think. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with Allison Druin, the director of the human-computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland. Durin discusses ways to help kids search more effectively online.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Most of us use search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo as our front door to the Internet. Weve grown accustomed to using keywords to search for everything from movie times to important issues dominating the news.

But lately researchers are paying more attention to the way children search for information online. Allison Druin is the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. She joins us here in our Washington studios. Allison, welcome.

Dr. ALLISON DRUIN (College of Information Studies, University of Maryland; Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab): Thank you. Its great to be here.

CORNISH: Now, your lab actually developed a study, which is sponsored by Google, we should say...

Dr. DRUIN: Yes.

CORNISH: ...which focused on the ways children search for information online. So, walk me through this. Im seven years old. Im sitting down to the computer. I call up my favorite search engine because its pretty or fun or cute looking and Ive got a lookup some information on George Washington. What do I do that an adult wouldnt do?

Dr. DRUIN: One of the things that we asked, so could you find us an information on dolphins? Well, seven-year-old quickly boom, boom, boom, boom. They found information on the Miami dolphins and you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. DRUIN: ...did not find out what dolphins eat. There were many children just sat there and watched until they would find the information. As opposed to, hey, couldnt you do a keyword. Nope, uh-uh. This is what I do. Ill find it, dont worry. We had one child swear he was going to find the vice presidents birthday next year in the Spongebob Squarepants Web site.

CORNISH: Somewhere.

Dr. DRUIN: Somewhere in there...

CORNISH: Spongebob had it.

Dr. DRUIN: Spongebob had it, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. DRUIN: What is it that parents can do right now to improve these skills? Well, they can be mentors in the sense of trying to motivate a kid to go further and farther. Also, being able to let kids see how you search and what you do to refine a search. Its those multi-step questions that trip up most people, for example, we asked what day next year will the vice presidents birthday be on? Well, this was a very interesting question because it takes three different searches to actually find that question, only about 0.5 percent of our kids could actually answer this question.

If we change the result pages, most kids dont click pass the first page. One of the things that we think that would be very valuable would be some sense of mentorship.

CORNISH: Mentorship from the computer.

Dr. DRUIN: Well, this is interesting. What we saw was there are many times where kids just sort of gave up, even though the information might have been there or they didnt realize that they had just misspelled something or kids say, oh, the information is not there, must not be important.

CORNISH: Would they do that would they essentially say if the Internet doesnt tell me so, it does not exist.

Dr. DRUIN: Yes, we saw this right off the bat from our early pilot studies. We found that boys stopped faster than girls, and this is across all the age groups. Girls, they keep on trying, but theyre less successful. And whats interesting is we found that there was less confidence in girls in terms of what they were doing. And so theyd say it was their problem. Whereas the boys would try and problem solve further and they didnt see it as their problem.

CORNISH: Some things dont change.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. DRUIN: It (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Allison Druin is the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. She joined me here in the studio. Allison, thank you.

Dr. DRUIN: Thank you.

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