"Research" in the age of the internet

See this article, “Online Research Worries Many Educators,” which I found via Jerz’s Literacy Blog. It’s a pretty common lament of the loss of library skills by students because “everything” is available on the ‘net.

What, me worry?

Actually, I’ve seen the creep to online resources for a long time. I remember teaching first year composition as a grad student in the early 90s, and I had to require students to have at least one piece of research in their projects from an Internet-based source. Getting them to find that one thing– an article, a newsgroup posting, some early web page, whatever– was like pulling teeth. Oh, the complaints!

Nowadays of course, I have to require students in first year composition courses (and in graduate courses, for that matter) to find at least half of their materials for their research projects from sources that are not online. And getting them to do that– “what, you want me to go to the… the… (gulp)… library?!”– can be not quite as bad as it was to get students to find stuff on the ‘net years ago, but close. Oh, the complaints!

Well, first off, this article and this issue is something that I should have included in my recently completed section of 516 and I will include it next time around. Though I’m not sure if there’s enough “there there” to make it worth an entire class session.

Second, this article (like most complaints about online research) skips over the complexities about online research. I mean, there’s lots of “not credible” things on the web, but there are also lots and lots of “credible” things on the web. I know the New York Times has had its problems lately, but it is still considered a good source and it pretty much is the same online as it is in print. My library subscribes to WilsonSelect, a service that delivers full-text articles from a variety of print-based periodicals, including academic ones. And then you’ve got stuff like Kairos and Computers and Composition Online.

And third, I think the availability of online research is actually a good thing because it forces teachers to teach about issues of evaluating the credibility of sources. It used to be that teachers would just say “go find it in the library” or “it has to be an academic source,” as if that automatically meant that the resources the student came back with constituted “good research.” Teachers can’t make that assumption anymore, and since that’s an assumption they shouldn’t have made in the first place, I think that’s good.

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