Dave, I’m very concerned about the “search engine” approach to doing research. I think it’s useless as training for doing real research, encourages children to acquire just the superficial facts, skimming along the surface of information rather than learning the real story on any given topic.
The first use of computers for research should be learning how to find books at the library. Second, students should learn how to use physical encyclopedias and online encyclopedias. Third, students should be introduced to online periodical indexes. The use of search engines should be the last “skill” to be introduced and should be combined with a discussion of the commercial underpinnings of the system and the various ways that results are manipulated.
You seem to be pretty deep in the world of search engines and online research. Do you agree with what I’m saying?
This is an important topic for modern education, I must say. I’m not sure that I exactly agree with your specific steps for teaching students how to most effectively do research online, but there’s much value in recognizing that just because a page can be found online, that doesn’t mean it has any actual value.
Of course, I have a small collection of pre-1920 history books and it’s quite interesting to contrast their interpretation of world events compared to our more contemporary perspective on, for example, European imperialism in Africa or Columbus and his crew “discovering” North America in the 1400’s. My point: just because something is in print doesn’t mean that it’s accurate, factual or unbiased.
In a similar sense, I’ve been reading about former president John F. Kennedy and am finding that the different skew of pro and anti-Kennedy books is remarkable! If I only read books that were written by authors sympathetic to Jack Kennedy, I’d certainly be gaining a completely different perspective on the President and his actions while in office.
Nonetheless, you raise a valid point. Moving from print to digital does encourage a more myopic perspective, even in the writing process itself. Essays I read that have never been printed out read as a sequence of “thought bites” rather than a coherent narrative, and I know that I often am surprised how differently something reads when it’s sprawled across a dozen pieces of paper.
On the other hand, research, like anything else, is fluid, and the definition of what comprises good research is inevitably going to change, as it has changed in the last fifty years. I don’t want to argue that students will stop doing comprehensive literature searches, but there is some sense of inevitability about the continued growth and pervasiveness of Google and the like. Further, if you can incorporate an encyclopedia, dictionary, academic literate search, and more into a standard search engine (which MSN and Google are exploring) why require students go through the kinesthetic motions of flipping through a card catalog, or searching in a big, musty book?
So in the end, I agree that students need to be taught how to be savvy information consumers, and how to explore the wide range of all materials and media available offline as well as online. But I don’t agree that books inherently have any level of accuracy or factualness that make them better than digital material.
But we’re two educators among millions. What do other people think about this?