Students don’t just trust everything they find online

14 Oct

That shouldn’t exactly be a newsflash, but as an information professional I know we often worry about students’ online information skills, giving them basic advice on how to search and assess the authority of information. Perhaps we are focussing our efforts on the wrong skills? This New Media Age article reports a YouthNet survey result that:

Peer review is key. Photo from glion.edu

Peer review is key. Photo from glion.edu

…58% of teenagers are wary of the information they find online and 71% cross-check online information with their peers.

They are checking the reliability of information, but not through making their own judgements, they are asking others for recommendations, and checking the effectiveness of information by comparing outcomes with each other.

Relating this to careers information, this cuts two ways. On the one hand it is reassuring to hear that young people do have safety mechanisms in place to protect themselves from poor online advice, and the popularity of careers-related forums to examine job offers and company cultures more closely is encouraging. However, since their trust comes from peers not necessarily the apparent authority of the site itself, it also means they might not take your service-provided guidance at face value either…

The New Media Age article relates to marketing messages, saying that the ‘broadcast’ model is over, that young people expect to be able to interact with your content and freely manipulate, examine, compare and discuss it with peers. Does your website offer the functionality to rate, comment and share content? If so, great! You are both going to get instant and specific feedback to improve your services, and at the same time you encourage this protective critical eye for online content – an essential lifelong careers skill.

Of course, even if you don’t facilitate this, there are plenty of other ways students can manipulate your content away from your view. Have you tried SideWiki yet? It is a new Google offering tied in with the Google toolbar, and it allows anyone to post comments about your website, to appear next to your web content, to anyone. If you don’t install Sidewiki, you won’t see it, but many others will… These kinds of services have a history of lukewarm adoption, but never have they had a name like Google attached to them. This has created a lot of nervousness as it seems an open invitation to trolls, and you can’t moderate it. Loss of control over brand reputation is always going to be frightening, but as Sidewiki contributes to the feeling of inevitability regarding this shift, the future must be to accept the change and work with it.

As I learnt at Fote09 from Will McInnes‘ engaging presentation – when Argos added the facility for users to rate and review their buys, the products with reviews had a 10% higher conversion rate (buy-to-view ratio). Web users really value transparency and it is definitely something you can turn to your advantage!

(For more on Sidewiki, here’s Google’s official introduction to the ideology and benefits:)

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