How do search engines shape reality? Preliminary insights from a learning experience

Davide Taibi, Giovanni Fulantelli, Luca Basteris, Gabriella Rosso, Elisa Puvia

More and more often, search engines are used by students as a tool to access information on the Web. This has the potential to affect the learning activities conducted by students. In this paper, the project „In WWW veritas?“ is presented. The project has the following objectives: 1) to investigate how searches carried out on the Web through search engines can lead to different results based on different criteria; 2) to increase students awareness on how search engines „filters“ can work and thus lead to a different perception of reality; 3) to stimulate critical thinking in the use of searching tools on the Web to fully exploit their potential. The project involved students of a high school in northern part of Italy. They examined the results presented by a popular search engine on selected controversial topics and tried to support or contrast the different points of view through a role-playing game. A qualitative and quantitative analysis of results showed an increased students’ awareness on the presence of filters through which the search engines provide information. Moreover, the activities undertaken into the project were also effective in developing critical thinking processes.