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?
I think it is fair that student be tauhgt how to use the internet properly and regularly but it is adviseble that they also use ordinary books as well when they work on assignments as they may come across useful info and increase their vocabulary as they read.
I am an elementary school teacher and a diagnostic reading specialist. I can understand some trepidation about using the Internet as a research tool. What happens if kids are researching civil rights and come across a nasty white supremacist site?
What happens if they end up at MTV.com when researching the history of Motown?
But Internet search has some astonishing advantages over traditional media. And I found myself using it extensively–in addition to traditional research materials–while taking grad courses.
A few interesting examples:
What was the publisher/author/illustrator of that book? Check Amazon.com!
How did Samuel T. Kirk get together with Hegge? Google. Who was Grace Fernald, and how were she and Helen Keller connected? Internet search.
What’s that children’s book, a tall tale in which Pa calls “Will, Jill, Hester, Chester, Peter, Paul, Tim, Tom, Mary, Larry, and Little Clarenda” to dinner. Guess what. Google provided my answer.
(The McBroom series by Sid Fleishman–fun stuff)
Where can I find high-interest books appropriate for struggling readers–reviewed by students themselves? You know the answer.
How about Google Earth for geography students? Have you seen this amazing, free application? Reproduce the experience using traditional media? Highly impractical. Also look at Celestia for teaching space science. A stunning, free app.
The Internet is here to stay and its influence on our lives and research will only grow. Teach your students how to use it appropriately, IMHO.
Just to throw an interesting note into this mix, the other day I read that recent research done by German researchers showed that too much computer exposure may hinder learning:
“From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in November that performance in math and reading had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home. And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school, those who used them several times per week at school saw their academic performance decline significantly as well.”
They became more specific about why this seems to be the case, stating that it’s because, “Computers seem to serve mainly as devices for playing games.”
I totally agree. 🙂
It’s _so_ easy to use the computer for entertainment purposes; turning it into just another TV or game console.
Perhaps we need to learn how to use the computer as a resource, and teach our kids the same.
Or just learn how to control ourselves. 🙂
I was a secondary field (Grades 7-12) Teacher in North Dakota from 1974 through 1985 and introduced computer-assisted education into the science and mathematics classrooms where I taught. I discovered that there was GREAT value there, as long as the computer use was LIMITED! While all of my research results are (obviously) rather dated now, the observations I make of my children and their classmates appear to support similar conclusions. The mental skills and thought patterns that make good researchers and problem solvers appear to be supported by learning traditional research methods. Students who use the computer for more than a moderate percentage of their research time seem to lack patience, and select one of the first references returned rather than seeking the BEST references returned.