“Google is not research.”
InsideHigherEd today offers a story about the Cornell Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative, which seeks an “understanding [of] how students perceive university research.” One of the expressed goals, as stated by Cornell professor Kathy Lee Berggren, is “to ‘really learn how to use a library whether they’re in it or not.’”
Cornell’s summer seminar seeks to build on the work from Berkeley who, undergoing an accreditation review, sought to understand how to incorporate research skills into the course level of instruction. That is, instead of requiring a specific research course,
What Berkeley and Cornell are both wrestling with is the complication of performing research in an iPod age. The players as I see them: “digital native” students, cranky, if well-meaning professors, Google and brick-n-mortar libraries. Oh yea, and Steve Jobs.
First, the natives. Contemporary students come to college with a different set of expectations than they did even ten years ago. These students are not agog at the level and breadth of information available to them. Rather, they expect to be able to, within a few key strokes, to gain access to whatever information they seek. And, with aggregated search engines like Yahoo! and Google, they are, to a large extent, able to accomplish this. Want to know the background of the Boston Tea Party? Want to see dissenting opinions? Conspiracy theories? The YouTube parody? Incoming freshmen can provide, usually while listening to downloaded music streaming from a video-enabled iPod (or, if you teach at ACU, all accessed on their school-provided iPhone). Research is done dude!
The cranky, if well-meaning professors, once confronted with such a bibliography, stare at the creatures seated in front of them and wonder, probably correctly, if these poor deluded punks have ever set foot in the hallowed halls of the school library. They haven’t. In their minds, they do not need to. Wake up old man, all of the information is now available online. If you want “deep” research, go to Google Scholar. There are all sorts of articles and things like that—even whole books now.
And expectations clash.
Libraries have done wonders in cataloging, compiling and generally making information accessible. I have no beef with them. They are, with a few notable exceptions, often lone wolfs, wandering the information plains with little support, scratched-together technology, and low budgets. They yearn for the students to come on in and use the catalogs so painstakingly compiled, the databases built from competing platforms. They even have an online portal offered up for dorm access. They have built it…they will come.
A user is able to access a vast catalog of downloaded/ripped songs by using only one fingers—usually the thumb. By spinning the wheel, even a novice user can quickly find the song/podcast lecture she is seeking within a few seconds, even from a list of thousands. Form meets function, and the case is cool and sleek and it works and the information becomes subordinate to the users. The thumb is in charge, and the streaming sounds confirm that, at least here, the world works, as it should. Steve Jobs has provided the user with a user experience that confirms, at least for most, the promises of the web hype—the tool from the bubble.
What the Natives don’t get, and the Profs know, is that the Net does not cast the skein that one might assume. That is, there are some big holes in that Net. The Libraries have worked to fills these gaps (consortiums, partnerships, etc.), but their work doesn’t always get the notice or exposure. Here is where the fault lines of generational expectations come into stark relief: Profs expect students to march into the library and acquaint themselves with the subject’s/discipline’s fiefdom. If not, then the student is lazy and lacks the necessary drive or will. The Natives don’t expect to have to navigate fiefdoms. For them, at least thus far, knowledge and data have been without borders. It does not occur to them that there would be a specific database for articles about Colonial literature that is not accessible through a quick key-word search from their dorm.
So, committees will form, grants will be given and studies will recommend that individual professors seek to imbue a research skill-set into their objectives. And without a standard (either a collective standard (MLA) or an organizational approach (ie Google)), the Natives and the Profs will continue to lament just how odd, lazy, out-of-touch, etc. the other is.