Why Don't We Teach Kids How to Use CTRL+F?

Teaching students how to use a book index is great, but what about how to use a computer or do internet research?

Every school district in the country has strict standards for the essential English, math, science, and history content students must master. As early as elementary school, students also are expected to develop basic research skills, like how to use a book's table of contents or index. But many schools don't mandate knowing how to use a computer, word processing and database software, and internet research tools. Yet those just might be the most important skills they can learn.

Dan Russell, a Google "search anthropologist" who studies how everyday people search for information online, told The Atlantic last week that 90 percent of people don't know that they can use CTRL or Command+F to find a word in a document or web page.

I admit that until I read the article, I was a member of that 90 percent. For several years I've relied on search engine browser extensions to help me out when I need to find one particular phrase or word in a web page or PDF. Indeed, Russell says he's spent countless hours watching people waste their time reading through online documents because they don't know about CTRL/Command+F.

Alexis Madrigal, who interviewed Russell for the article, rightly concludes that tricks like that should be taught in schools since "we're talking about the future of almost all knowledge acquisition." I agreeafter all, basic electronic literacy is a must-have for nearly every job these days. And if kids don't learn how to do this type of thing in school, where will they build the skills?

Part of the problem is that teachers don't always have their own electronic literacy skills to pass on to students. Sure, there's the Google Teacher Academy, which trains select educators in digital technology so they, in turn, can instruct other teachers at their schools. But even with an electronically literate teacher, the reality is that schools, particularly in low income areas, still lack updated technology. Schools in countries like Uruguay are leaving us in the digital dust when it comes to providing laptops to all students. You simply can't teach something like the CTRL+F shortcut from a textbook.

And, of course, electronic literacy isn't measured on state standardized tests. At a time when teacher effectiveness is increasingly tied to test scores, educators are more likely to spend their time teaching what the state requires, not essential life skills like CTRL+F. That's too bad, because if we don't take electronic literacy seriously, we run the risk of raising another generation of Americans that can't find a word on a webpage.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Cristóbal Cobo Romaní


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