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Youth information seeking, Information retrieval, Mental models, Internet searching, Adolescents, Digital youth

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Although youth are increasingly going online to fulfill their needs for information, many youth struggle with information and digital literacy skills, such as the abilities to conduct a search and assess the credibility of online information. Ideally, these skills encompass an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the ways in which a system, such as a Web search engine, functions. In order to investigate youths’ conceptions of the Google search engine, a drawing activity was conducted with 26 HackHealth after-school program participants to elicit their mental models of Google. The findings revealed that many participants personified Google and emphasized anthropomorphic elements, computing equipment, and/or connections (such as cables, satellites and antennas) in their drawings. Far fewer participants focused their drawings on the actual Google interface or on computer code. Overall, their drawings suggest a limited understanding of Google and the ways in which it actually works. However, an understanding of youths’ conceptions of Google can enable educators to better tailor their digital literacy instruction efforts and can inform search engine developers and search engine interface designers in making the inner workings of the engine more transparent and their output more trustworthy to young users. With a better understanding of how Google works, young users will be better able to construct effective queries, assess search results, and ultimately find relevant and trustworthy information that will be of use to them.

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Information Retrieval Journal, v. 20, issue 5, p. 403-432