Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    “Google is not research.”

    On the surface, this seems to be a self-evident truism; a bane of all instructors looking at the paltry bibliographies of their student’s “research” papers. A topic is assigned, the student does their due diligence by “Googling” expected key words, and undoubtedly one of those key terms turns up Wikipedia. Information is found, two more sites consulted and the topic is, according to the students, covered. Laptop case closed, time to move on.

    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, Berkeley, on a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, sought to set up the framework by which research skills could be woven into the instruction of any 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.

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    Would you like me to read this to you? Listen


    Blogger vlorbik said...

    nice post.
    i don't even try any more:
    even one's fellow teachers
    consider it weird to want
    to disappear into the stacks
    for several hours a week
    & feel it a duty to gush
    about some new online toy
    they just found out about
    that'll last about a week
    every time you show up to work.
    meanwhile, somehow, book-loving
    scholars are born every day.
    it just doesn't have anything to do
    with me paying the bills. so be it.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Clicked here from the insidehighered.

    It can't be emphasized enough: the brick-and-mortar libraries with physical books are super-expensive. Having everything on .pdf on a server that people may access regardless of physical proximity has obvious advantages.

    I'm currently in my first teaching job at a for-profit career college (classes are in-person). So, given the nature of the institution, the "library" is more of a study room with a few books, and the actual library a set of databases geared toward the students' majors: criminal justice, business, visual communications, and Academic Search Premier and Opposing Viewpoints. I wish we had more, like CQ Researcher and Project Muse, but we're not a land-grant state college.

    So, my case contrasts with your version: "Profs expect students to march into the library and acquaint themselves with the subject’s/discipline’s fiefdom." Instead, I teach research methods where "Googling" skills are applied to finding articles in academic research databases -- by necessity as well as to fit the students' needs and expectations.

    The simple sell is that the databases provide MLA citation for the articles -- simple cut and paste for works cited. Although most students follow my directives, a few paraphrase Wikipedia; last week I put a student through the indignity of citing a Wikipedia entry 20+ times in his essay; he admitted that we had been loud and clear about the weakness of sources like Wikipedia, so I had him write about why he took that route.

    Also, for finding plagiarism, search engines like Google make it easy: select some text and put it in quotes, and Google will find where the material was lifted from. In the cases where students did this partially, it's a learning experience. When a student presents an entire essay posted on the internet as their own, it's easy and guiltless to fail them.

    In other words, Google should not be considered research as you put it; "Googling" skills applied to databases where vetted articles sit should be considered research. We're pretty much in agreement.


    Thursday, June 19, 2008  
    Blogger stevenb said...

    Why not just talk to one of the librarians at your college and find out which one or two library databases would be effective for students who need to complete your research assignment. Build into the assignment guidelines for which database(s) to use. Give students the name of the librarian. Maybe have the librarian visit your class if just to say hello. Research shows that students, when it comes to research, are not influenced by librarians. However they are highly influenced by faculty. If faculty recommend a research resource students will use it. So rather than feel all futile about poor student research behavior, there is something we can do.

    Friday, June 20, 2008  
    Blogger Mohamed Taher said...

    Thanks for the insights. I posted your excerpts, links and my 2 cent. Best wishes.

    Friday, June 20, 2008  
    Blogger K. Meyer said...

    The library at my CC is pathetic, so the Internet is really a better option for my students. But the library does have access to great databases and they will provide a class inside the library for them to learn how to use those databases. Then I require them to use those sources in their paper. I'm new to this blog, so I don't know if you have covered it before, but I allow google and wikipedia sources as long as they are smart about following the links to the primary sources. I show them several times in class how to be smart about doing research online, because there is no way they will be doing any substantive research at the library. A few of them actually listen and get it -- amazing!

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008  
    Blogger The High Holy Forker said...

    Oh, the fear builds! I'm polishing off both my Humanities MA and Writing Instructor Cert, internship for Comp 101 (at a pretty big CC) in spring. Question: it's a 101 course, how much "research" am I likely to actually get?

    Monday, October 06, 2008  

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