And why not? In one sense, finding information on the Web has never been easier, even though the experience can be a bit like trying to get a sip of water from an uncorked fire hydrant. Type the words "Civil War" into the Alta Vista search engine, for example, and 580,838 pages are retrieved.
But while the thought of easily tapping such resources is enticing, the lack of guidance can present a young scholar with a confounding array of positions and voices to absorb while trying to understand an issue.
That presents educators with a new responsibility - one that must be taught to ever-younger classes. "You have to teach how to identify source bias, and balance that with other sources - teach how information fits in a larger construct," says Jacqueline Hess of the Academy for Educational Development in Washington.
To do this, teachers must help kids develop a discerning eye for everything they see, hear, and read on the Internet. "Training a kid to have a critical eye is very, very important," says Catherine Davis, a veteran teacher and managing editor for Yahooligans.com, an Internet directory for young adults (and one that includes advertising, though it is clearly marked). "It is important for kids to understand what is content or advertising."
But if Samuel Ebersole's research is accurate, much work remains to be done in that area. Professor Ebersole, chairman of the mass-communications department at the University of Southern Colorado, collected more than 130,000 Web addresses used by Colorado middle- and high-school students who claimed to be using the Internet for research. With the help of two media experts, he reviewed a random sample of 500 of these sites to determine their reliability for academic research. The result: an astonishingly low 27 percent of the sites were considered reliable sources of information.