The study by Hargittai et al. (2010) that I reported on in my previous post is and example of a methodologically sound piece of research. This is unlike much of the popular writing on this topic which tends to be speculative, anecdotal or research based on questionable methodology. Educators have tended to pay more attention to the latter than the former. The result is a widepread belief that all people born after 1982 are technologically sophisticated and digtially literate and that we need to make radical changes to our educational systems to accomodate this generation. As the growing body of sound research, like that of Hargittai et al. (2010) is showing, this popular view is not grounded in fact.
Here are some key methodological strengths of the Hargittai study:
1) they actually observed user behaviour rather than relying on self reports and they didn't restrict what Web sites participants could consult: "Our findings suggest that utilizing this more naturalistic method allows us to uncover user practices that have been hard to capture using earlier methods."
2) They linked trustworthiness and credibility to branding which has been neglected in earlier studies and they took into account the full search context in their investigation: "How users get to a Web site is often as much a part of their evaluation of the destination site as any particular features of the pages they visit."
3) They used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods.
4) They administered a paper/pencil survey, "to avoid biasing against people who feel less comfortable filling out Web forms or who spend less time online and thus may have less opportunity to participate."
Look at the popular Net Gen literature and you won't find this kind of methodological rigour. And you won't find this conclusion:
"Students rely greatly on search engine brands to guide them to what they then perceive as credible material simply due to the fact that the destination page rose to the top of the results listingsof their preferred search engine."
A British study released last year came to similar conclusions about the information seeking behaviour of what it called the "Google Generation", a slighter younger group born in 1993 and later.