Google is “white bread for the mind" says professor
January 14, 2008 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Google is “white bread for the mind" Professor of University of Brighton believes that easy access to information (Google and Wikipedia) has dulled students’ sense of curiosity and is stifling debate.
posted by wyspa03 (102 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: SEO spammer for The Times Online UK -- mathowie



 
PROFESSOR ISSUES CALL TO SECURE TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY OF LAWN
posted by nasreddin at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2008 [61 favorites]


What luddite nonsense
posted by A189Nut at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


If Tara Brabazon (the professor) wants her students to think critically then forcing her own opinions and beliefs on them is not the way to do it.
posted by wyspa03 at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


She's not giving her students very much credit...it seems to me that young, net-savvy people would be more inclined to use Wikipedia as a links reservoir than as a source in itself. (Mind you, I'm guessing, which -- while that may be good enough for Wikipedia -- well, you know.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2008


What a lame post. Not much more than an Op-Ed.

If Tara Brabazon (the professor) wants her students to think critically then forcing her own opinions and beliefs on them is not the way to do it.
- adds the OP
posted by vacapinta at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2008


I do think it's possible that students don't apply enough critical thinking to online content, so I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, until I got to this:
“I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both – not one or the other, not a cheap solution,” she said.
The question the article initially raises has to do with the validity of information, not the delivery format. There are plenty of printed pages of unmitigated crap.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


If there is one thing I know is true, it is access to information ruins debate. Years ago, I could argue with my brother for hours whether Egypt was in Africa or Asia Minor. Nowadays, nope.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:00 AM on January 14, 2008 [26 favorites]


Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work.

I assume she provides a fast electronic searching tool to aid in investigating these extracts.
posted by demiurge at 10:00 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Students are incautiously copying inaccurate information into their work?! Good Lord, that certainly could never have happened when we only had books.
posted by Phanx at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm too intellectually lazy to comment on this so I'll just see what google says about this stupid prof.

FanFiction.Net - My Disjointed Life, a Final Fantasy VII fanfic
Damn, this stupid prof is killing me with his plastic smile and fake toupee. It’s not as if he’s being inconspicuous about it either.
www.fanfiction.net/s/2724230/1/


Yeah, that sounds about right.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2008


Maybe she should back that anecdotal evidence with some hard research, and then post said research to the internet.
posted by Null Pointer and the Exceptions at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments."

If you are a student and rely exclusively on Google to find information for you, you are essentially not developing your own research skills and sensibilities, or replacing them with Google's search algorithm.

For complex questions, thousands of likely-to-be-unfocused search results are no replacement for in-depth study and critical thought.

Brabazon's point is certainly fair in this regard, unless the point of post-secondary education is simply to teach more facts, and not also teach how to learn.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


What's wrong with white bread?
posted by ericb at 10:06 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]




mefi = 7 grain bread
posted by sswiller at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2008


I think this professor has it all backward.
posted by caddis at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]



mefi = 7 grain bread


mefi = botched quinoa magic brownie
posted by nasreddin at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2008 [17 favorites]



She's not giving her students very much credit...it seems to me that young, net-savvy people would be more inclined to use Wikipedia as a links reservoir than as a source in itself.


Last year I worked as a graduate assistant, which meant I had access to to papers turned in by other students. Wikipedia as a primary source was not uncommon. (And this was Info Sci.) I have no idea if the professor said anything or not to them. In theory these people knew everything (or a lot) about how Wikipedia and Google work; about verifiable, authoritative sources; knew to look further than the first page of a google web search and knew where to go for all types of information. In practice...they were busy I guess. And undergrads? Pfft, I would imagine.
posted by frobozz at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Results 1 - 10 of about 259 for botched quinoa magic brownie. (0.43 seconds)
posted by sswiller at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I for one suggest we ditch this easy to access information and go back to storing everything in Alexandria. That seemed to work out well.
posted by boubelium at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Historically, most debates have consisted of one side arguing in favor of white bread, and the other arguing in favor of flying spaghetti. Technology has created the intolerable situation wherein anyone can easily establish that flying spaghetti isn't the right answer. Thus, the domain of serious debate is limited to those things we don't already know the answer to. Oh noez!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2008


Truth: Nothing is more antithetical to a good debate more than the introduction of facts.

I know this is correct because I googled it and then read the wikipedia entry on the subject.

And then I cross referenced it with some printed fanzines which completely corroborated it.
posted by quin at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


If you can apply critical thinking to printed pages, then you can do the same with the information you find on the internet. Banning Wikipedia and Google searches won't help your students develop good research habits and a critical mindset. Spoon feeding your students "approved" sources is just going to make them more inclined to blindly trust source materials, rather than giving them the healthy skepticism for any source that you will need in the real world. (Have you evaluated a newspaper for accuracy of facts lately?) Why not spend some time teaching them to evaluate the validity of sources instead? "Teach a man to fish" and all.

And like me & my monkey pointed out, just the fact that it's printed doesn't mean that it's intrinsically better than something you find online.
posted by gemmy at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


She believes that easy access to information has dulled students’ sense of curiosity and is stifling debate.

I don't think we have the same internet.

Tara Brabazon: Unsubscribe me from google.
posted by ersatz at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, having had direct experience with more than a few University of Brighton students ... that actually lends slightly more credence to her claim.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:20 AM on January 14, 2008


In all fairness this doesn't sound like an issue with Wikipedia itself but simply the students going for the low-hanging (and sometimes rotten) fruit. Sounds like it's up to the college admissions folks to keep mediocrity out of the orchard.
posted by chips ahoy at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2008


The thing she appears to be missing is that the vast majority of people doing research who know what they are doing don't do much on google if they can help it. The academic databases, if you have access, are actual *resources*. For example, why should I bother thumbing through print copies of a journal I vaguely remember reading a useful reference in when JSTOR can find the article and show it to me in the time it takes to type in a search?

When I needed to find a good book on X, my first action was to hit up JSTOR, specify book reviews, toss in a few carefully chosen keywords, and hit search. A moment later up pops a listing of dozens, hundreds, of reviews in peer reviewed journals of books on the topic I was interested in.

Wikipedia is, despite its detractors, a useful resource for first glance knowledge on a topic. It certainly isn't something to use as actual research, but if you just need a quick overview of, say, the Cultural Revolution in China, it will give you that quick overview, and enough data to have at least a clue as to where to look for real information, and usually some genuinely useful links in its references. Again, I would never use it as the basis for any academic writing, but it does make for a fantastic jumping off point.

Google itself, I'll admit has never really come up with much of anything useful when I was doing real research. Mostly because the useful stuff is generally behind paywalls.
posted by sotonohito at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


This thesis is probably best left for a drunken cocktail party conversation, rather than something that will be included with her permanent, printed body of work. Just a thought.
posted by psmealey at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2008


What a dope. If we weren't curious about something, we wouldn't be googling it in the first place, now would we? You know who has a dulled sense of curiosity? Most professors, outside their field of expertise. You want to hear the sound of minds slamming shut, ask most science profs about the "soft" social sciences, or ask humanities profs about engineering.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


The internet has made me more curious, not less. My rewarding minimal effort (compared to walking all the way to the library for a few hours) makes me more likely to dig deeper and seek out the truly important materials.
posted by wires at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2008


Interesting post.

I really don't like the tone of the article, it's accusing these new internet resources of making readily accessible and brief information too easy to get to for innocent, unknowing youngsters, and filling their heads with insufficient information. Placing the blame on someone other than the kids and, possibly poor prior education, seeks to marginalize and even demonize these wonderful tools.

Intellectual Laziness seems to be the greater issue here. Anyone willing to settle for the easy, quick answer rather than using a tremendous resource like google or wikipedia as a tool for gathering starting points to more in depth resources has a personal problem. Google scholar is a perfect example of this professor's sour grapes. Say something controversial and get attention.

I think this professor might feel jealous that so many people have knowledge, at their fingertips, that he went to much greater lengths to find when he was at this age.
posted by hellslinger at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


it seems to me that young, net-savvy people would be more inclined to use Wikipedia as a links reservoir than as a source in itself.

Nope. They use it as gospel truth.

They also cite articles to jstor, as if it were a journal or book of which jstor were the author. Sometimes they cite jstor followed by the obfuscated url that the university's proxy server uses. As in:

Jstor. 2008. http://proxy.university.edu/sessionid=893407523891129834userid=87421387412897342891374bli=2341234que=234897891237.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


yes, there's something about a professor of media studies not wanting her students to use the internet that doesn't seem quite right
posted by pyramid termite at 10:34 AM on January 14, 2008


Google is white bread for the mind.

Wikipedia is lettuce for the soul.

Myspace is bologna for the ego.

Youtube is Miracle Whip for the eyes.

Metafilter is the deli toothpick that holds it all together.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2008 [11 favorites]


So we should use Dogpile, not Google?
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:41 AM on January 14, 2008


Yes! Because access to information is the antithesis of what education is all about!
posted by shmegegge at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2008


Moreover, this shows the hackery of TimesOnline. It's somewhat infuriating to me. Accusing google and wikipedia of being illegitimate in order to produce a catchy headline is just a way of riding the coat-tails these two champions of information as well as bolster their own egos as a legitimate source of journalism.

This article doesn't provide any real information about the reliability of the two resources or how many people they've made more curious, or how much time they've saved people by allowing them to find that one paper they needed for reference or link to a better site or book.

Whoever wrote the article being linked to should be ashamed.
posted by hellslinger at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2008


I tried to cancel the Google, but all I got was this lousy t-shirt.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2008


I think Google being so popular just made it the go-to for lazy students, and enticed the only sometimes lazy students to follow suit. Previously there were a number of ways to be lazy. Call a friend at the last second, copy a book at the last second, ask a parent at the last second, even ask the teacher at the last second. Now, I think a lot of kids (and I've seen the papers citing wikipedia [or not citing it but trying to use a blurb from it], even though there were explicit instructions not to do that) go to Google at the last second.

I think google is problematic in many ways because many errors get repeated again and again. Of course, that happened in the past too, which is why "music soothes the savage beast" was incorrectly said for umpteen (or nth amount of) years. So again, it just points to a single place's popularity where we can now locate the error.

For some reason, incorrect music (mostly rap) lyrics on google seem to get on my last good nerve. They come from ohhla and then get picked up by 1000 other pages and pretty soon some completely incorrect phrase is getting spouted off.
posted by cashman at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2008


the world has been going downhill since gutenberg. we must restore reading and writing as properties exclusive to the elites who properly value and appreciate them.
posted by bruce at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2008


I seem to remember the day (I'm 23 and have my BA) that when you turned in a bad paper with shoddy resources, and piss poor bibliography, and unsupported, not peer reviewed or generally researched information the teacher would give you a bad grade.

The teacher would not post a whiny blog message.
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:04 AM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Googles -- they do nothing!!
posted by LordSludge at 11:09 AM on January 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Title of a Tara Brabazon book:

Digital Hemlock: Internet Education and the Poisoning of Teaching

No ax to grind here.
posted by blucevalo at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2008


From the article: “Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content,”

This person seems to think Google is responsible for the content of the internet.

Also: “Students live in an age of information, but what they lack is correct information. They turn to Wikipedia unquestioningly for information. Why wouldn’t they - it’s there,”

...which has been found in studies to be pretty much as accurate as established print encyclopedia. No information should be read unquestioningly.
posted by nthdegx at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


the world has been going downhill since gutenberg. we must restore reading and writing as properties exclusive to the elites who properly value and appreciate them.

Or, instead of turning back the clock, a third way is that teaching professionals can discuss ways about how better to teach students how to learn, if the tools they are using now are being used exclusively and to their own detriment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2008


This professor's experience in no way mirrors my own observations. Furthermore, she fails to cite any compelling peer-reviewed research indicating that her theory has any significant merit.

I'm dismissing her criticism, on the basis that she doesn't appear to be a reliable source.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


So debate was better when one or both sides were full of shit? Forgive me if I don't buy this since I'm not at all convinced ignorance is something "professors" should be advocating.
posted by tommasz at 11:27 AM on January 14, 2008


Man, that's some massive insecurity right there.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nah she makes good points. She's not talking about MeFi, but 18 year old just out of high school non-geeks whose only experience of research is Google and Wikipedia. There is a general notion that if it's not on the web it's probably not worth knowing - and it's true for "real life" (hobbies, etc..) but in the academic world, things like Wikipedia are highly misleading, it gives the impression of knowledge.
posted by stbalbach at 11:28 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


This professor shows a serious deficieny in reasoning skills.

If you don't want students using Wikipedia as a source (which is understandable), then simply tell them so. Also, this could be a great exercise in teaching students to properly vet their sources before using them in a paper. But I guess pooping on Google takes a lot less effort.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:29 AM on January 14, 2008


It has never been easier to find academic research articles these days thanks to the Internet, and via sources far superior than Google, which is why it's ridiculous for students to rely solely on Google. And wikipedia seldom sites them in the social sciences. It sites "sources" such as World Net Daily or the New York Daily News. And herein lies the problem with Google--it tends to bring up Wikipedia regarding virtually every subject imaginable, to the point that I'm finding it nearly useless even for entertainment purposes, much less academic research. In my area, urban politics/policy and public policy, it also pulls up think tank/policy institute material, which is unfortunate given that even grad students don't realize that the material from these sources is more often than not partisan in intent, despite being identified with supposedly "non-partisan" organizations with 501c3 status. Just because it looks all research-ey, with stats and all, doesn't make it peer reviewed or written by someone with no ideological ax to grind. (And no, partisan slants are not nearly as commonly found in policy studies as you might imagine, if all your info about them comes from Front Page magazine or something, and in that case you're probably reading about obscure debates at the MLA conference or something, which has nothing to do with actual policy studies.)

Now, you could point out that there is Google Scholar. It is pretty decent, and many (if not most) university library web sites will point you to it, but it is spotty in regard to usefulness. What Google is best for in academic research, I've found, is for locating a copy of article for which you have the title already and may not be able to find via your university library's services (professors sometimes place copies of their articles online, or classic pieces from decades past make their way online, etc.), or previewing books via GoogleBooks.

Bitching about Google and Wikipedia does not equal ludditism, regardless.
posted by raysmj at 11:30 AM on January 14, 2008


when you turned in a bad paper with shoddy resources, and piss poor bibliography, and unsupported, not peer reviewed or generally researched information the teacher would give you a bad grade.


Yes. But when EVERY student in the class -- good, bad and indifferent -- hands in a paper with a bibliography consisting of Wikipedia and sources from the top of a Google search, because they neither know nor care about the difference although you've told them, and when every classroom discussion contains at least two students who, when asked a direct question, type it into Google and READ THE ANSWER OFF THE SCREEN, and when no student can read and summarize the thesis of a simple article, then the time has come for whiny articles.

Seriously: if you can't refer to anything -- from popular culture to basic facts of history -- without the students having to look it up, lecturing becomes difficult. If you don't know basic facts, you have no internal information grid to link them to, and you can't retain them, and if your reading is limited to 150 word webpages, then you can't have or retain much depth of knowledge.

This gets really obvious when students refer to T.S. Eliot's influence on Chaucer .
posted by jrochest at 11:34 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can tell students over and over not to use Google and to properly vet sources, etc., but even some of the best students, will not totally get it, take the seemingly easy way out when pressed for time. It's like beating your head against a wall sometimes, which is sometimes infuriating given how much easier it is to find great material now than it was less than a decade ago.
posted by raysmj at 11:35 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Internet Makes You Stupid
posted by monospace at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2008


I agree with her criticism, given how lazy and uncritical people can be. . . 30% of Democrats said they were for the war in 2002, 40% said they were for the war after we reached Baghdad, now, 20% say they were for the war back in the day.

Hers is not a theory but a policy position arrived at via experience.

My grandmother gave us 40 years of National Geographics and a set of World Book encyclopedias when I was young, which I inhaled over the next 3-4 years. It took me 10-15 years to unpack the subtle and not-so-subtle biases of these information sources.

When it gets right down to it, where are the authoritatively correct sources one can go to? Her point is that they don't exist; everyone has an "axe to grind" and critical thinking is a skill one must develop.
posted by panamax at 11:42 AM on January 14, 2008


This professor's experience in no way mirrors my own observations. Furthermore, she fails to cite any compelling peer-reviewed research indicating that her theory has any significant merit.

Ah, you read her published papers then, rather than relying on unreliable secondary sources like newspapers?

If not, your post would appear to confirm her thesis.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:43 AM on January 14, 2008


Well when all I'm doing is Google Image Search on "porn", why the hell else would I need to dig deeper? I'll trust the Google Al Gore Rhythm on this one.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:59 AM on January 14, 2008


Oh, and I ban the use of all encyclopedias in research papers, not just Wikipedia (so whatever claims about its accuracy or lack thereof are immaterial). You may use encyclopedias in high school term papers, but you should not be doing that for a college-level research paper. It just so happens that Wikipedia is the encyclopedia most students will site, if'n they do.
posted by raysmj at 12:02 PM on January 14, 2008


Oh, Google Scholar is quite useful, e.g., finding the works of Tara Brabizon. Rankings are based partly on how many citations articles have received from other works, which is a reasonable indication of utility (though it tends to suppress the leading-edge stuff).

Perhaps the Professor should take a class or two in using the Internet for actual research. Or does she still have a card catalog handy?
posted by Ella Fynoe at 12:03 PM on January 14, 2008


I think, as others have said, the problem is that students increasingly see google results or a wikipedia page as the definitive answer and even if they look at the sources cited, its too much of a leap for them to dig any further. The idea is that if it's not googable, it cannot be relevant.
posted by patricio at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If we weren't curious about something, we wouldn't be googling it in the first place, now would we?

Ah, yes. I love it when students tell me that they use Google, not the other way around. They don't even click on the advertisements. But could you imagine -- maybe if you try really, really hard -- that the user interface of model of Google doesn't reward creativity? That returning an enormous amount of algorithmically sorted, contextless links isn't going to lead to any deeper understanding of a topic? That perhaps the authority of books doesn't rest in their easily duplicated content but in a design and mode of production that fundamentally prizes depth above breadth?

But, yeah. This is nonsense.
posted by nixerman at 12:12 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bitching about Google and Wikipedia does not equal ludditism, regardless.

Serious question here: Do you think if Lexus/Nexus was more readily/aggressively marketed that it would help? I'm not being facetious either; I just don't know. It would seem that since L/N is the defacto online research tool that more people would flock toward that if it was better known outside of academic circles (again, I'm sure theres better sources online but L/N comes immediately to mind). Also, some questions that popped into my head as I was reading.

Whats the difference between reading a 150 page article on a monitor as opposed to a printed page? If there is no difference than is it an issue with the ease of access to this information? The correlation being made seems to be that since information is easier to get at that this make us lazier (which I don't buy).
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:15 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


You may use encyclopedias in high school term papers, but you should not be doing that for a college-level research paper.

Exactly.

Prof. Brabazon may have it all wrong about whether Google stimulates curiosity in students, but she does have it right about crappy research. It's not just the internet though as raysmj points out.

I love it that this post, and the DotDotDot post both appeared today. ;)
posted by caddis at 12:17 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


And herein lies the problem with Google--it tends to bring up Wikipedia regarding virtually every subject imaginable, to the point that I'm finding it nearly useless even for entertainment purposes, much less academic research.

Because most people are not looking for in-depth information. They are looking for a quick, basic overview of a topic - which is exactly what Wikipedia offers. By adding operators and refining your query based on the first few search results (e.g. excluding common terms that don't apply to what you are looking for) you can find almost any information you need on Google. It just takes a bit of patience and some additional knowledge to dig beyond the first few pages of seemingly-irrelevant results. At the very least, what you find online will almost always point you in the right direction for further research, both off and on line.

Critical thinking and being able to discern bias in source materials is a vital skill. I just think that her approach to teaching it to her students is flat out wrongheaded.
posted by gemmy at 12:26 PM on January 14, 2008


From a 2006 Tara Brabazon article:

If a discussion about the role and purpose of popular culture in higher education is not made, then our classrooms become museums. Teachers become guides through the dusty relics of books and ideas. Education becomes trapped in an infrequently visited library stack. The conservative cry to go "back to basics" is often code for returning to safe, seamless cultural formations that offer no argument or challenge against the current political order.

It would seem that her argument against using Google contradicts the message that she presents here. If you do not rely on "the dusty relics of books and ideas" for research, and you do not rely on Google for research, on what do you rely? If you are caught in an inevitable "white bread" trap if you use Google, and if you are simultaneously also in a trap if you use an "infrequently visited library stack," where is it that you are not in a trap?

I can see her point that relying solely on Google is problematic, but I fail to see what she thinks the answer is. Merely banning the use of Google because it is somehow morally deficient -- and simultaneously forcing students to rely for research solely on something that in a different context you have airily called a "dusty relic" -- seems somewhat disingenuous.
posted by blucevalo at 12:26 PM on January 14, 2008


College age kids should be doing advance research through JSTOR or EBSCO or Proquest already and contrary to common thought, that makes librarians ever more crucial to the educational process. Students should be required to take and pass a short seminar in their first semester, 2 or 3 hours can make a VAST difference, learning research skills on the wealth of online resources most colleges now offer through their school library, and making use of them as easily as they do Google or Wikipedia.

Any College library system or professor in a research intensive field not doing that already on some level is, in my opinion, doing their students a deep disservice. In all fairness, from personal experience, a great many librarians (especially in the academic arena) need to unstick their heads from their collective asses long enough to push for this sort of thing.

The real danger to younger students ( K to High School) is not that they use Google and Wikipedia to learn about something, but that they feel like they DON'T need to learn because well...they can always Google or Wikipedia it.
posted by Skygazer at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


By adding operators and refining your query based on the first few search results (e.g. excluding common terms that don't apply to what you are looking for) you can find almost any information you need on Google.

Unfortunately, you won't find journals to which your university subscribes, or find a direct link to it. So, no, you won't find all the info you need as a college student or academic researcher via Google, even with that terminology.
posted by raysmj at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most students today would be lost if you stuck them in a library and told them to find a specific article, using nothing more than the library print resources. Most students today have no idea what a card catalog looks like, either. There is a reason for this. They were a pain in the ass to use. Electronic resources don't get misfiled, they don't get shelved incorrectly, they aren't checked out for the duration of the semester, and they can be accessed from anywhere thanks to the proxy servers that any decent university provides to their students.

The number of times I needed to go to the library to dig up physical print sources for my own PhD dissertation is probably an average of about once or twice per year. The remainder was obtained from electronic resources like PubMed, JStor, and the like. While I agree that just skimming Google isn't the answer to researching articles, I honestly feel that handing students a sheaf of dead trees in a digital age is a similarly dumb move.

An answer to this might be to start by teaching students how to use the library resources. Homework assignments (remember those?) that require you to do things like look up and print out information from the University holdings. Finding a specific article in a specific journal and making a photocopy of it to turn in. Finding a resource that is held on reserve for the course, and doing something with it. The kind of stuff my instructors made me do, and the kind of stuff that would still work quite well.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:44 PM on January 14, 2008


It's such a pity that Google is getting traduced here. First time I was at uni the net was in its infancy, and Altavista would have been fuck-all use for an essay. Now, Google (and Scholar, and Jstor) are fabulous for finding eight or nine different launching points into research -- that inevitably ends in the library.

As a way of breaking into the surface of a topic, they're unparalleled, and have made my essays ten times better, and taken me off into whole new directions.
posted by bonaldi at 12:46 PM on January 14, 2008


Unfortunately, you won't find journals to which your university subscribes, or find a direct link to it.

It varies from institution to institution, but Google Scholar includes the capacity to link to many universities' electronic journal subscriptions. You have to enable those links through Preferences, but they're available.
posted by blucevalo at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2008


The Internet undermines authority of information. By lowering the means needed to create information, and knowledge (whether true or not) it allows everyone to be a creator. This eliminates the prior monopoly the more learned had to be producers.

Selecting a sample of "good" sources is an attempt to create an argument by authority on her sources. It is a disservice to her students, as part of higher education is finding and discerning veracity of published sources. It insulates them from the rhetorical tricks used to color results.

As for me, the Internet has made me more skeptical of any unknown resource I come across, enough to study who wrote, who they work for, who funds that organization, other political standpoints of that organization, other works by the author, and an examination of cited sources. Which makes me just as skeptical of a printed work suggested by a professor, who may or may not have an agenda, as something an impersonal, if somewhat malleable, algorithm will give me. I especially wouldn't rely on someone who uses such loaded words as "digital hemlock" in her publications.

On the other hand:
One of the main problems that people involved with technology, especially new technology, like computers and software, is that they are mainly self taught. No one taught me about computers or how to use them until I was in college, as the bleeding edge had not trickled down to the lower levels. Trial and error, and searching for information online were the order of the day. As such, there was no authority of information, and a general reliance on self filtering to glean knowledge. So the people who designed information networks and software may have these values, and may imbue them into the design of the system. See the OLPC project. This may not translate as well to the general populace, or for all manner of information systems.
posted by zabuni at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Merely banning the use of Google because it is somehow morally deficient -- and simultaneously forcing students to rely for research solely on something that in a different context you have airily called a "dusty relic" -- seems somewhat disingenuous.

teh artical sez bannation jus4 1st yr
posted by panamax at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2008


I Can Has Rezearch Papar?
posted by caddis at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2008


If the internet made me less curious, I wouldn't look anything up. I definitely wouldn't read Wikkipedia, or ask mefi for that matter.
posted by webgurl at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2008


The problem is that ease of information access hasn't been matched by information literacy. College educators are struggling mightily right now to teach their students how to distinguish between different sources and types of information. And that's her main point, and she's entirely correct in that. The quote about digital content being cheap is being taken out of context. It requires less critical thinking on the students' parts, is the overall comparison she is making. They're letting Google determine relevance and mistaking search engine relevance for accuracy.

I can see her point that relying solely on Google is problematic, but I fail to see what she thinks the answer is. Merely banning the use of Google because it is somehow morally deficient -- and simultaneously forcing students to rely for research solely on something that in a different context you have airily called a "dusty relic" -- seems somewhat disingenuous.

She bans them from using Google for their first year while she teaches them the information literacy skills they need and they become familiar with peer-reviewed source material. Her quote implies that she hopes they'll use sources from various places after that first year. It's not uncommon for first-year courses in other disciplines to ban internet sources. Freshmen are really really bad about thinking that all text on the internet is peer-reviewed, even though most of them have never read a journal article before. It makes sense. They need to learn to use academic resources and that magazines are not journals. It is surprisingly difficult to convince students of these kinds of things.

If there is one thing I know is true, it is access to information ruins debate. Years ago, I could argue with my brother for hours whether Egypt was in Africa or Asia Minor. Nowadays, nope.

You'll always have Wikipedia.

The real danger to younger students ( K to High School) is not that they use Google and Wikipedia to learn about something, but that they feel like they DON'T need to learn because well...they can always Google or Wikipedia it.

Actually the more we teach to standardized tests, the more they just memorize stuff and forget it later. The reality is that they actually need to learn how to find and evaluate information and then interpret, synthesize, and summarize it. Teaching content alone isn't enough. Critical thinking skills are not being taught as they should because they're not as easily coded into A B C D responses.

From a 2006 Tara Brabazon article:

If a discussion about the role and purpose of popular culture in higher education is not made, then our classrooms become museums. Teachers become guides through the dusty relics of books and ideas. Education becomes trapped in an infrequently visited library stack. The conservative cry to go "back to basics" is often code for returning to safe, seamless cultural formations that offer no argument or challenge against the current political order.


My favorite essay questions in college biology classes were the ones where I had to do something that seemed fun and absurd on the surface (describe and justify the taxonomic placement of the hippogriff [madeup Latin name]; design an experiment to test such and such in blast-ended screwts; solve this intriguing murder case for Mulder and Scully using this data on ATP counts in the victim's cells) yet required that you know the real material inside out. So even in the more fact-heavy disciplines, you can get your pop culture on.
posted by Tehanu at 1:19 PM on January 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


the hippogriff is obviously a mammalian vertebrate in the order equusaves.
posted by bruce at 1:45 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, you won't find journals to which your university subscribes, or find a direct link to it. So, no, you won't find all the info you need as a college student or academic researcher via Google, even with that terminology.

I included the operators link because you seemed to imply that there was good info on Google, but that it was too hard to find because of the surrounding noise. What I said was "what you find online will almost always point you in the right direction for further research, both off and on line." I use Google as a jumping-off point - identifying which journals/books cover my topic specifically, finding names of interesting articles, finding names of authors writing on the topic, identifying associated keywords that allow me to focus queries better, etc. It's the first broad brush that gives me a much wider perspective on a topic than if I start my search somewhere else.

Is it the end-all-be-all of all the information you need? Of course not. But I think that teaching students to use it properly would be a much better solution than forbidding them to use it as a research tool at all.
posted by gemmy at 1:50 PM on January 14, 2008


I don't see any way of keeping students from using it at all, unless you send robots or cyborgs to their dorms or apartments or other dwelling places to check up on them. But I do have a problem with students using, say, reports written by former pols for the Heritage Foundation or the Progressive Policy Institute or whatever, which pretty much tells me they used Google without thinking. And, as others here have attested, it doesn't matter how much you tell students or whether you bring them to the library, assign an article for them to find and analyze, etc., even the best students at your average university are at least occasionally going to do this anyway, which is pathetic in an age when so much more material is so easily available.
posted by raysmj at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2008


As usual, lots of people don't know or care what the professor actually said, just that OMG SHE HATES GOOGLE! Well, no she doesn't (not that the crappy reporting helps), she just thinks (quite rightly) that students need to learn how to supplement it with other material.
Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work.

“I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both – not one or the other, not a cheap solution,” she said.
(Emphasis added.)

For those of you saying the kids are alright, students already know how to use the internets, etc., you need to stop making assumptions based on your own experience and doubtlessly brilliant clique of friends and talk to some teachers. I was just told today about a classful of students who couldn't even put a comprehensible sentence together.
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on January 14, 2008


Tara holds three bachelor degrees, three masters degrees, a graduate diploma and a doctorate.


How many hands does she have?!?!?
posted by srboisvert at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2008


Baby, im-a want google
Baby, im-a need google
Google the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe im-a yahoo
But I just cant live without...
Google lovin and affection
Givin me direction
Like a guiding light to help me through a darkest hour
Lately Im a-bloggin
That google’ll always be a-stayin beside me
Used to be my life was just emotions passing by
Feeling all the while and never really knowing why...
Lately Im a-bloggin
That google’ll always be a-stayin beside me.
Used to be my life was just emotions passing by
Then you came along and made me laugh
And made me cry...
You taught me why...
Baby, im-a want google
Baby, im-a need google
Oh, it took so long to find you, baby
posted by Smedleyman at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2008


Some folks will complain about anything. A wonder he doesn't have an account here.
posted by LarryC at 5:18 PM on January 14, 2008


JSTOR is a digital archive. Its contents are delayed from 1-5 years. It drives me insane when people suggest otherwise. If you are looking for recent scholarly articles, please do so elsewhere. Maybe throw some Google Scholar in the mix. They have pre-prints and conference papers.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:57 PM on January 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you are looking for recent scholarly articles, please do so elsewhere.

In almost all circumstances, undergraduates aren't looking for recent scholarly articles.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:24 PM on January 14, 2008


In almost all circumstances, undergraduates aren't looking for recent scholarly articles.

Well, the dumb ones aren't.
posted by caddis at 7:40 PM on January 14, 2008


As for me, the Internet has made me more skeptical of any unknown resource I come across, enough to study who wrote, who they work for, who funds that organization, other political standpoints of that organization, other works by the author, and an examination of cited sources. Which makes me just as skeptical of a printed work suggested by a professor, who may or may not have an agenda, as something an impersonal, if somewhat malleable, algorithm will give me. I especially wouldn't rely on someone who uses such loaded words as "digital hemlock" in her publications.

Tadah, critical thinking and research and the ability to evaluate the viewpoint of sources. Which is exactly what you need to make sense out of the internet. Or, say, Metafilter ("oh, I'll ignore that blacklite guy, he's always bitching about something" or "ooh he has insightful comments" or "didn't he post something about how he's convinced the internet is made of ham? I don't know if I trust him.")

That's what should be taught (and learned), not "DON'T USE WIKIPEDIA!"
posted by blacklite at 7:48 PM on January 14, 2008


Well, the dumb ones aren't.

Very few undergraduates are concerned with, or need to be concerned with, bleeding edge research. In many cases, it wouldn't even be appropriate to a typical undergraduate research paper. Maybe things work differently in literature or related; I dunno. But, for example, hardly any undergrads are going to be able to functionally read a bleeding-edge political science article, at least not without help and secondary explanations.

Note that most undergraduates are not particularly well-prepared, not particularly intellectually curious, and attend second- or third-tier colleges that are at best marginally selective -- and often because they were not admitted elsewhere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:09 PM on January 14, 2008


My issue with student use of Google is that they're not very good at it. They put in the obvious (ie not necessarily the most appropriate) search terms and use (some of) the first ten links that come up. One solution is to try and educate them to use stuff properly, highlight the need for coming up with more than one source, emphasise that refereed material is going to be better than unrefereed and that stuff from companies is only going to be useful for particular uses. If you want students not to rely on it then give them papers they can jump off from that you approve of, then teach them how to find linked stuff, e.g. by using the reference section of that paper to see what it drew on or by using citation indexes to explore for stuff it later informed. Google scholar is ideal for this. As ROU says you do have to quite choosy about what academic scripts you give students, otherwise its like giving them a highly detailed map of a small part of a city and expecting them to find there way to that part of the city.

Wikipedia: Repeat ad nauseum that wikipedia is not reliable and is not acceptable as a citation, lots of red pen on submitted scripts and obviously lost marks until they actually pick up on this.

Inevitably some students are going to pick up on some or all of this faster than others, but teaching research skills is just as valid as out and out knowledge, and part of that process is that not all get everything first time, and not all progress at the same rate.
posted by biffa at 4:58 AM on January 15, 2008


This reflects what annoys me about universities (or at least the ones I've been to) - they treat the Internet as though it was a single solid object. I've had assignments that placed limits on how many sources I could get "from the Internet", and others where the lecturers/tutors crow on about how "the Internet is UNRELIABLE OMGZ". That's like saying the library is unreliable. (In some cases it can be, because most of our books are super-old yet we're meant to analyse new things.) It's a tool, a container of information - it doesn't actually create the info for us.

What if you found something that was originally in print/film/etc, but now your only way of accessing it is online? Does that count as a source from the Internet or not? (This is a serious question. I've often found articles previously from print now online, as well as speeches/interviews/etc that were transcribed online, and don't have access to the original thing. Citing it in my References list has always tripped me up.)
posted by divabat at 5:22 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very few undergraduates are concerned with, or need to be concerned with, bleeding edge research. In many cases, it wouldn't even be appropriate to a typical undergraduate research paper.

Damn, that must explain why I bombed my last semester: using sources that are too new. My most frequent comment from the faculty was that I wasn't using established theory, which was often old and very Western-centric. This was especially frustrating when it was a subject like Performance Innovation and their idea of innovation is "this director took a Japanese art style and put it in a Western play! That's innovative!" or an events subject that claims that festivals around the world were mainly a way to subvert authority (maybe in Australia, but in Malaysia they're for a different reason).

I usually try to synthesize what I could extract from those theories together with a more international (mainly Asian due to my background) understanding as well as melding other fields (for example, a paper I did on Eve Ensler combined performance theory with feminism). This has very mixed responses - a few subjects loved this approach, one or two surprised me because I thought they'd not like it, but for some reason last semester nearly every assignment came back with "not enough theory from the lectures" (it didn't help that last semester I was often away for conferences and so had to catch up big time). Gwargh!

/rant
posted by divabat at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


What if you found something that was originally in print/film/etc, but now your only way of accessing it is online?

Unless you have images of the original pages, which are probably too much of a pain in the ass to fake, it's not reliable. Any jackass can post a web page that says that Southern Politics in State and Nation is a stirring defense of neoconfederate thought and make up some quotes to go along with it.

Damn, that must explain why I bombed my last semester: using sources that are too new.

In all seriousness, it can be. Sometimes the subtext of an assignment, which really ought to be spelled out ahead of time, is "Take a theory from this course and apply it elsewhere" or "Take a reading from this course and compare it to a similar one, and I happen to know that these were all from 20 years ago" or in some other way ask you to take something from the course and do something with it, demonstrating that you can do that.

If you go off and do completely your own thing as an undergraduate, my first reaction is probably not going to be "Wow, divabat is really smart and clever." More likely, given that I've generally taught in second- or third-tier institutions where students are generally relatively incurious and relatively poorly prepared for university, is that I will think "Divabat hasn't really paid attention or done the readings in this course, and is trying to cover it up by dragging in material from another course she did pay attention in." This is one reason why I make undergraduates turn in outlines and lists of sources before the paper.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:08 AM on January 15, 2008


Very few undergraduates are concerned with, or need to be concerned with, bleeding edge research. In many cases, it wouldn't even be appropriate to a typical undergraduate research paper.

I would argue a lot depends on the discipline, in the sciences you are unlikely to need much that's cutting edge. I specialise in renewable energy policy and will often use up to date material as a basis for lectures, etc, as we can get the students a long way into what's currently happening in a meaningful way.

Regardless, a student will still have to demonstrate they properly understand the material and contextualise it in regard of more established knowledge, this can be a problem as many undergrads will not have sufficient depth of knowledge to be able to do this meaningfully, or the interest to follow it up.
posted by biffa at 6:21 AM on January 15, 2008


for some reason last semester nearly every assignment came back with "not enough theory from the lectures"

That's because you're supposed to demonstrate that you understood and mastered the material in the lectures. It's not a correspondence course or an independent-study seminar.
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on January 15, 2008


While I think the outright condemnation of Google as a whole might be misguided, I can't help but agree with the spirit of what she is saying. Much of the reaction here sounds more like "She is wrong because I know how to use Google just fine!" I work in a school and I've seen teachers have to tear students away from Wikipedia's bountiful trivia teat, how a "paper that requires X # of cited sources" becomes an exercise in stream of consciousness writing with X# lines copied and pasted from whatever pops up, not because the words matter or that they really need to seek information from other places to write a competent paper, but because it's filling requirements.

She's right in critical thinking and research skill needs to be taught. The problem isn't the instant availability of information, it's the shame that all the information in the world is in front of these kids and they don't have a clue as to where to find it and what to do with it. I've helped kids doing such research, frustrated that their google search of "what effect did clinton have on welfare and the economy" didn't "find anything", I've overheard them conspire with one another how to fudge Wikipedia sourcing so they don't get caught.

I know it's an early onset case of "get off my lawn", but the reality is these kids have never known a world without the internet and instant gratification in terms of virtually all forms of media and information. It's a great innovation, but it's important they know how to find the right information.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2008


What if you found something that was originally in print/film/etc, but now your only way of accessing it is online?
When I was in college (which was a mere four years back), I'd quote a digital copy of an old issue of The Economist, for example, like I would quote a regular hard-copy. That is to say, if I saw an old copy-paste of some useful article on, say, USENET, I'd look that one up again through Lexis-Nexis or any of the many research databases that the university subscribed to. That way, I could be sure that the copy-paste I saw on USENET was legit, and that there have been no edits made by the poster. Most research databases would carry useful citation information (Vol. Index, pg. etc), so you can actually get away quoting that, instead of the exact URL where you originally read the article. If I couldn't trace the article in its original form, then I wouldn't use that citation.
As an aside, and I don't mean this as a barb against you, but this is exactly the point that the original article (and your professors!) was (are) making! :-) Do you see why the Internet as a medium can sometimes become unreliable? On net-related discussions, citations can be a simple link, any link anywhere.
Let me demonstrate that with an example. Out here on Metafilter, in a discussion on sub-prime crises, if I wanted to demonstrate that, say, Americans are increasingly getting to be more interested in business-related news, I'd simply have linked to this article and kept quiet. Someone would raise a ruckus about not trusting LA Times for its {INSERT_EVIL_POWER_HERE}, or why the author is the devil incarnate or something. We'd all have a bit of a net-crusade among ourselves, perhaps have a few MeTa call-outs, and the world will be all fine.
In academic dissertations, such a linkage often isn't enough. There's a lot of associated hagiographic information that you're losing in the process, that this was first noticed by an American newspaper, and that an Asian newspaper decided to reprint it in toto, and of course, the finer point that the original assertion I made was entirely misleading; even according to the article, it is only The Economist that has increasing sales, not the Business Week.
One way to look at citations is that it would lead your reader on a path of discovery for herself; because the net is always changing, and because you can't easily establish that chain of citations to the original author that easily, net sources are often considered unreliable compared to printed ones, even though they could be right, and the printed material could be wrong.
Without reading your exact essays (they sound interesting!), I wouldn't be able to, naturally, comment on whether your professors were right, or whether they were simply being old dodgy farts (let's face it, the latter is, after all, more likely), but just to demonstrate why many people consider the net as a whole to be an unreliable medium. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 7:33 AM on January 15, 2008


Also, I fail at HTML tonight. Sorry about that; I have no idea as to why Mefi has been refusing to take my para tags in. Think there's a bug in the app? If you don't put in paragraph marks in your original draft, click "Preview", put the para tags and then click "Submit", then the tags somehow vanish. Tried "Preview" a couple of times, and each time the app ate my tags. :-( If it's any help, I'm on Windows 2003/ Opera 9.5.
posted by the cydonian at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2008


the cydonian: But what if the article you're trying to cite hasn't been picked up by the academic databases? I often use international newspapers where I obviously don't have a copy and the website link has died or will die soon (Malaysian papers tend to do this to me!), but I've retrieved the original text from sources that I trust. And how about transcript of speeches/talks/other originally-non-textual information? Does the transcript have to necessarily be from a "top" source too? For example, if I need the transcript for Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, and I find it on an enthusiast's website, does that count? (Fan/enthusiast sites trip me up. As someone who's run a fansite and the official site for the same person, I've seen that fansites are often a lot more thoroughly updated and resourceful. But because they're not "official", they don't count for much.)

and heh, perhaps that's my biggest folly - tending to rely on all sorts of outside information rather than just sticking to the lectures. I find it hard to separate all the bits of information from each other ("ok, this is the Performance Theory knowledge, this is the Marketing knowledge, etc etc") and I find it more interesting to synthesize them - though of course the university isn't concerned with what I'm interested with :P Also, while there is definitely a question of bias when it comes to media sources, this doesn't mean that purely academic sources are unbiased too (ESPECIALLY when the sources are quite old) - the AskMefi thread about Ma made me laugh because my faculty has a tendency to make Ma the Centre of the Asian Arts Universe, while completely forgetting the rest of Asia. blergh.

obviously I'm not suited for academia, haha.
posted by divabat at 8:51 AM on January 15, 2008


I've retrieved the original text from sources that I trust.

But there's no reason for anyone else to trust them.

if I need the transcript for Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, and I find it on an enthusiast's website, does that count?


No, of course not. There's all sorts of misquoted stuff all over the internet. What you need is an official transcript; a website is fine as long as it's an official one that verifies its sources. If you're feeling particularly picky, you can watch the video and compare it with the transcript to make sure it's accurate. (If you don't think accuracy is important, that might explain why you bombed your last semester.)

I find it hard to separate all the bits of information from each other

That's what scholarship is all about.

obviously I'm not suited for academia


You may not be, and there's no shame in that—most people aren't. But you shouldn't blame academics for insisting on upholding standards that are important to them just because they're not important to you.
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on January 15, 2008


Often, the undergraduates that I help are *only* allowed to use recent research. Maybe it's related to subject matter.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2008


Also, publishing with the past 5 years is not really bleeding edge.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2008


old and bitter
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2008


i heard this person interviewed on the bbc news round up podcast. times change i guess, some play catch up more than others.
posted by iboxifoo at 11:03 AM on January 17, 2008


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