Students of all ages can have a good deal of trouble doing research online. (And not just students, we'll admit, if we're honest.) The obvious answer to this problem is to train people to do better searches. But the most obvious answer may not be the best one.
College and university librarians are concerned about students' search skills, and no wonder:
At Illinois Wesleyan University, "The majority of students -- of all levels -- exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process," according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited "a lack of understanding of search logic" that often foiled their attempts to find good sources.
The librarians quoted here understand most of the key problems, and are especially sharp about "the myth of the digital native" -- about which see also this deeply sobering Metafilter thread -- but there's one vital issue they're neglecting: research databases have the worst user interfaces in the whole world.
Librarians want students to specify their search terms, but that rarely happens: "Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, 'Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box,'" simply clicking into a text field and typing away. Problematic, yes -- but why shouldn't they be able to do that? Why shouldn't the software be able to help them out?