Kwok-Wing Lai and Keryn Pratt

In 2001, NEMP developed a simulated (‘compact’) model of the WWW by archiving a database of Web pages on the hard disk of NEMP laptop computers. Children were asked to find information archived in this database with a search engine called Seeker. The present study evaluated the effectiveness and validity of the compact model by comparing children’s search performance on it with their performance on Internet using the search engine Google.

Otago and Southland Year 4 (N = 54) and Year 8 (N = 45) students were randomly selected from schools participating in NEMP, and then randomly assigned to either the Seeker or Google groups. The students were then asked to complete the same information-searching tasks used by NEMP in 2001.

• While there was no significant difference between model-using students and Internet-using students at either age, Year 4 students were more likely to locate sites containing answers to one of the task questions when using the model.

• Students’ web-searching behaviours frequently differed between the two sets of tasks, and between questions within the tasks.

• Overall, Year 8 students performed better than Year 4 students.

• There were no gender differences in the use of search strategies on the model and Internet or in the ability of students to find answers.

• Students did not use the same searching behaviour on Internet as on the model, possibly because Google and Seeker differ in key ways. For example, the two engines return different websites in response to keywords, and using more keywords narrows the search with Google, but broadens it with Seeker.

• Google generally returned more sites containing information related to the questions, but the sites summaries did not always clearly indicate this. The reverse was true for Seeker.

The compact model and Seeker may not be perfect in terms of measuring children’s Internet-search performance and ability, but simply using Internet and Google is not necessarily the answer. For example, the limitations mentioned above, and Google’s ever-changing results pages, means that Google cannot be used to explore children’s ability to look for the same information. Using a model of Internet that addresses such difficulties may therefore be the most valid way of measuring children’s Internet search performance. A model may also be a better way of familiarising students with Web-searching and enhancing their search skills.  
Finally, the differences in the students’ Web-searching behaviours on and between the different questions highlight the need to use a range of tasks and questions when measuring children’s ability to search Internet.

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