In today’s modern world, elementary school students (aged 5 to 12 years) use computers for a wide variety of tasks. These include communication (e-mail, instant messaging, and chatrooms), entertainment (games, video, music, etc.), leisure (such as information relating to hobbies and general interests), and information retrieval to support class-based learning. Internet access is now very widely available from home, school, and public library. A major reason for accessing the Internet is to find Web-based information relevant to classroom learning activities. Undoubtedly the Web represents an enormous and potentially rich source of multimedia information on topics within the elementary school curriculum, but accessing this information does pose a number of challenges. We identify in this article three major problem areas that currently impede effective exploitation by elementary school students of Webbased information resources: information systems are not necessarily intuitive or straightforward for children to use; basic information literacy skills too often are inadequate; and too little content appropriate for young users is available on the Web. The first technology to gain popularity as a means for children to retrieve information was the CD-ROM. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of multimedia information resources targeted specifically at children were available in this medium. Many were children’s encyclopedias, designed to facilitate rapid retrieval of discrete information “chunks,” and often multimedia versions of an original print title. These CD-ROMs could offer an engaging, interactive experience for the young student. Although students were willing to explore and experiment with interfaces (Large, Beheshti, Breuleux, & Renaud, 1994; Large, Beheshti, & Breuleux, 1998), they were not necessarily effective at retrieving information from these CD-ROM titles (Marchionini, 1989; Oliver, 1996). In any event, regardless of its strengths and weaknesses as a classroom resource, CD-ROM technology proved transient and was quickly superseded by the expansion of the Internet and the rise of the Web. Yet the information retrieval problems revealed by CD-ROMs would continue to plague the Web.
Information System Design
Many studies (Bilal, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002; Large, Beheshti, Nesset, & Bowler, 2004) have found that young students overwhelmingly turn to a relatively small number of search engines when seeking information on the Web: mainly Google, and to a lesser extent MSN, Yahoo, and Ask.Com (formerly, Ask Jeeves). All these retrieval tools, of course, were primarily designed to accommodate adult rather than young users who have very different cognitive abilities and affective responses when using information technologies as well as different information needs. Large, Beheshti, and Rahman (2002) identified four broad criteria by which Web search engines could be evaluated: goals, visual design, information architecture, and personalization.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Information Literacy: The knowledge and skills required to find information to answer a specific need. These include the ability to identify relevant information resources, locate information within them, and critically evaluate that information in the light of the expressed need. An example of a program to promote information literacy is the Big6™.
Virtual Reality: A digital environment that simulates the visual appearance of three-dimensional reality and allows users to navigate this space in order to undertake tasks of some kind. In the context of information retrieval this would be to locate discrete items of information.
Search: A systematic attempt to locate information in a library, catalog, database, or the entire Web in a purposeful way. The search takes advantage of the fact that the information has been organized in some fashion to facilitate its retrieval.
Search Engine: A computer software tool that enables users to locate information on the Web by entering keywords or phrases (often called natural-language searching) in order to retrieve pages including those terms, or by navigating through a hierarchy of subject terms in a directory in order to find pages that a human indexer (normally) has assigned to those subjects.
Information Retrieval: The processes, methods, and procedures involved in finding information from a data file, which now is typically a digital catalog, index, database, or the entire Web. The objective is to find all information relevant to the particular need while excluding all information that is irrelevant to that need.
Browse: To look through an information collection, such as a library, a library catalog, or a database, in order to locate items of interest. In the context of the Web, to look for information, often in a serendipitous fashion, by navigating through subject hierarchies (directories) or by following hypertext links embedded in pages.