In my day…

I remember back when I was going to West Valley Community College in the 1980s that a few professors at other schools (thankfully not at West Valley) had banned those “newfangled Macintoshes.” They thought that typing on a typewriter made for better thinking processes (seriously, that’s what a few of them thought). Probably so, but I knew then that these folks were stuck in the mud and that we should have, instead, banned the professors from ever setting foot in a classroom again.

I have the same feeling about professors who ban Google and Wikipedia.

If I were a professor and I wanted my students to go deeper than “first level Google searches” I’d just grade tougher. Really, is it any more difficult than that? Geesh.

96 thoughts on “In my day…

  1. In middle school, I’ve had some teachers not allow us to type assignments. I guess this is bad, but I simply cannot think as well when I handwrite assignments and they turn out all choppy. I end up just rewriting them after I type them… :-\

  2. In middle school, I’ve had some teachers not allow us to type assignments. I guess this is bad, but I simply cannot think as well when I handwrite assignments and they turn out all choppy. I end up just rewriting them after I type them… :-

  3. Robert

    You’d be surprised how many professors would love it if they never had to teach again. Especially here in Northern Europe in January where getting out of bed before 10am is a struggle.

    I’ve written and edited encyclopedias for money and I wouldn’t like to think that anything I wrote was being used as the last word on anything. Grade tougher is one way, but then you get into problems with the economics of higher education. It costs money to fail people.

    Chris

  4. Robert

    You’d be surprised how many professors would love it if they never had to teach again. Especially here in Northern Europe in January where getting out of bed before 10am is a struggle.

    I’ve written and edited encyclopedias for money and I wouldn’t like to think that anything I wrote was being used as the last word on anything. Grade tougher is one way, but then you get into problems with the economics of higher education. It costs money to fail people.

    Chris

  5. Today total editing time for articles in scientific and professional magazines last at least one year. For book that time is longer. So if you want access to the fresh information, internet is the only place where you can find up-to-date scientific and technical information.

  6. Today total editing time for articles in scientific and professional magazines last at least one year. For book that time is longer. So if you want access to the fresh information, internet is the only place where you can find up-to-date scientific and technical information.

  7. If it were just a matter of banning CITATIONS from Wikipedia, it would make perfect sense. The provenance of information is highly relevant to its reliability, and reliability is a important factor in determining citability.

    But Google? That’s like sending them to the library and banning the use of the card catalog.

    CAM

  8. If it were just a matter of banning CITATIONS from Wikipedia, it would make perfect sense. The provenance of information is highly relevant to its reliability, and reliability is a important factor in determining citability.

    But Google? That’s like sending them to the library and banning the use of the card catalog.

    CAM

  9. Teaching online at the university level, I suggest to my students that they can use Wikipedia to begin their research, particularly the bibliography sections, then investigate the sources listed and other primary sources in the process of conducting research for a formal academic paper.

    In my the classes about writing research papers, a large part of the grade for a paper is based on the use of sources to support the student’s ideas, so using only Wikipedia would result in a low grade for a paper.

    Part of our discussion in these classes is about Wikipedia, how it works, why this can cause inconsistency in content quality and/or bias in some cases, using the bibliography to track primary sources, and how to evaluate credibility in all sources.

    Rather than banning a new tool, educators should help students understand how it fits into the overall picture, in this case, media literacy.

  10. Teaching online at the university level, I suggest to my students that they can use Wikipedia to begin their research, particularly the bibliography sections, then investigate the sources listed and other primary sources in the process of conducting research for a formal academic paper.

    In my the classes about writing research papers, a large part of the grade for a paper is based on the use of sources to support the student’s ideas, so using only Wikipedia would result in a low grade for a paper.

    Part of our discussion in these classes is about Wikipedia, how it works, why this can cause inconsistency in content quality and/or bias in some cases, using the bibliography to track primary sources, and how to evaluate credibility in all sources.

    Rather than banning a new tool, educators should help students understand how it fits into the overall picture, in this case, media literacy.

  11. Students should be able to use whatever tools are at their disposal unless the purpose of the assignment is to force students to learn how to use a specific type of resource.

    Sounds to me like an old fart that doesn’t realize the steam train is not going to stop. We just need to teach young people how to ride it effectively.

  12. Students should be able to use whatever tools are at their disposal unless the purpose of the assignment is to force students to learn how to use a specific type of resource.

    Sounds to me like an old fart that doesn’t realize the steam train is not going to stop. We just need to teach young people how to ride it effectively.

  13. The article isn’t clear, but it seems that the professor is both banning the “use” of these sources and the “citation” to these sources.

    The former is a bad idea, but the latter is okay.

    Using online tools is a good way to find excellent primary and secondary sources to cite in research and studies. Citing to these sources is an abomination. They don’t come with the badges of reliability and authority necessary to build a thesis of thought upon.

  14. The article isn’t clear, but it seems that the professor is both banning the “use” of these sources and the “citation” to these sources.

    The former is a bad idea, but the latter is okay.

    Using online tools is a good way to find excellent primary and secondary sources to cite in research and studies. Citing to these sources is an abomination. They don’t come with the badges of reliability and authority necessary to build a thesis of thought upon.

  15. Robert,
    How did I contradict myself? I said that banning Google seems a bit much, but banning it as a primary source (which is what I think this professor is doing) seems perfectly reasonable. And yes, it is draconian to ban something, but that might be the only way that this teacher is able to enforce a no-Wikipedia sourced paper rule that doesn’t mean automatically failing anyone who is using it. Granted, if you have to go to those lengths to get students to actually work, you are probably a pretty craptacular professor – I don’t disagree with that, but the overall sentiment that Google and Wikipedia should not be primary sources for college research is something I fully support.

  16. Robert,
    How did I contradict myself? I said that banning Google seems a bit much, but banning it as a primary source (which is what I think this professor is doing) seems perfectly reasonable. And yes, it is draconian to ban something, but that might be the only way that this teacher is able to enforce a no-Wikipedia sourced paper rule that doesn’t mean automatically failing anyone who is using it. Granted, if you have to go to those lengths to get students to actually work, you are probably a pretty craptacular professor – I don’t disagree with that, but the overall sentiment that Google and Wikipedia should not be primary sources for college research is something I fully support.

  17. “people ignore or miss the point”

    The counterpoint being made is that Google and Wikipedia contain references to scholarly works and “real” paper-based books. They even contain the entire contents of many scholarly works.

    If a teacher doesn’t know how to instruct her students in the use of research tools for scholarly purposes, it’s not the fault of the research tools — it’s the fault of the teacher.

  18. “people ignore or miss the point”

    The counterpoint being made is that Google and Wikipedia contain references to scholarly works and “real” paper-based books. They even contain the entire contents of many scholarly works.

    If a teacher doesn’t know how to instruct her students in the use of research tools for scholarly purposes, it’s not the fault of the research tools — it’s the fault of the teacher.

  19. The amazing way people ignore or miss the point she was making, simply jumping on the bandwagon of “how can they ban the internet?” kind of proves her point about the inability of tech-reliant students to think critically doesn’t it?

  20. The amazing way people ignore or miss the point she was making, simply jumping on the bandwagon of “how can they ban the internet?” kind of proves her point about the inability of tech-reliant students to think critically doesn’t it?

  21. If this teacher really wants to stick to their guns, they should also ban every public domain book which was used to fill Wikipedia. And every book indexed by Google.

    While they’re at it, maybe they should ban every book that’s been read by electric light (AKA “the Devil’s Sunshine”)

  22. If this teacher really wants to stick to their guns, they should also ban every public domain book which was used to fill Wikipedia. And every book indexed by Google.

    While they’re at it, maybe they should ban every book that’s been read by electric light (AKA “the Devil’s Sunshine”)

  23. Two points. Firstly, the point that quite a few people are missing is “Research” is a skill, it is often counter-intuitive and often about what you don’t find as well as what you do find. Searching on Google or wikipedia is not the same as it is more difficult to search a context. Also, much good research is done whilst traveling in the wrong direction and the Q&A style resources that the web offer hardly allows you to meander across topics and subject areas wherever your interests take you. Secondly, Google and Wikipedia are excellent when you are asked to answer a question in a field where answers are readily available but where there are no answers or no field to speak of a Google/Wikipedia based approach to research will not illuminate a path informing you how to set about trying to answer that type of question.

  24. Two points. Firstly, the point that quite a few people are missing is “Research” is a skill, it is often counter-intuitive and often about what you don’t find as well as what you do find. Searching on Google or wikipedia is not the same as it is more difficult to search a context. Also, much good research is done whilst traveling in the wrong direction and the Q&A style resources that the web offer hardly allows you to meander across topics and subject areas wherever your interests take you. Secondly, Google and Wikipedia are excellent when you are asked to answer a question in a field where answers are readily available but where there are no answers or no field to speak of a Google/Wikipedia based approach to research will not illuminate a path informing you how to set about trying to answer that type of question.

  25. Christina: it’s funny that you contradict your point within one paragraph! See, you don’t need to ban its use. Just make its sole use laughable.

    And any teacher who can’t tell that you only did a Google or Wikipedia search for your research should be fired immediately anyway. If I were grading papers the first thing I’d do with each paper is to try a Google search to see how many common sources came up. High commonality would see a failing grade from me. Note that’s not a “ban.” Just saying that you gotta go further if you wanted to pass in my class.

  26. Christina: it’s funny that you contradict your point within one paragraph! See, you don’t need to ban its use. Just make its sole use laughable.

    And any teacher who can’t tell that you only did a Google or Wikipedia search for your research should be fired immediately anyway. If I were grading papers the first thing I’d do with each paper is to try a Google search to see how many common sources came up. High commonality would see a failing grade from me. Note that’s not a “ban.” Just saying that you gotta go further if you wanted to pass in my class.

  27. Several points:

    –Amen to those who say the point should be to teach some critical thinking. I tell my students that they *can* use Wikipedia — it’s great e.g. for looking up the date of a WW2 battle — but that they *must* take it with a grain of salt. How much has it been updated? Is it sourced? Etc. It’s a chance to teach them something broader about what we take as a legit source, rather than passing judgment against Wikipedia per se. Dan at #5 is right on — when you make the students cite, you can tell how much work they’ve done.

    –Re jacking up text to 13 point. We’re onto this one, folks. ;)

    –Re #10: Many university students DO have access to these deeper journals etc. The good students who come to my office hours get reminded of this frequently.

    –Re #19: “The inclusion of a book in a school’s reference library doesn’t convey any more about its credibility than does google about the inclusion of a page in its index.” In the abstract, this is true. In the practical world, though, it’s demonstrably false. Reference librarians as a group are MUCH better trained and MUCH pickier than that.

  28. Several points:

    –Amen to those who say the point should be to teach some critical thinking. I tell my students that they *can* use Wikipedia — it’s great e.g. for looking up the date of a WW2 battle — but that they *must* take it with a grain of salt. How much has it been updated? Is it sourced? Etc. It’s a chance to teach them something broader about what we take as a legit source, rather than passing judgment against Wikipedia per se. Dan at #5 is right on — when you make the students cite, you can tell how much work they’ve done.

    –Re jacking up text to 13 point. We’re onto this one, folks. ;)

    –Re #10: Many university students DO have access to these deeper journals etc. The good students who come to my office hours get reminded of this frequently.

    –Re #19: “The inclusion of a book in a school’s reference library doesn’t convey any more about its credibility than does google about the inclusion of a page in its index.” In the abstract, this is true. In the practical world, though, it’s demonstrably false. Reference librarians as a group are MUCH better trained and MUCH pickier than that.

  29. The inclusion of a book in a school’s reference library doesn’t convey any more about its credibility than does google about the inclusion of a page in its index.

    Thus the question is one of teaching research skills – which should be applied equally to books found in the stacks, wikipedia pages, or google results.

  30. The inclusion of a book in a school’s reference library doesn’t convey any more about its credibility than does google about the inclusion of a page in its index.

    Thus the question is one of teaching research skills – which should be applied equally to books found in the stacks, wikipedia pages, or google results.

  31. Ian: Are you as concerned about students using scholar.google.com?

    An online index of publications and access to the publications themselves online can be a very efficient way to research/learn/study.

    What we need is more, open content online, and even better access to it–not the other way around.

  32. Ian: Are you as concerned about students using scholar.google.com?

    An online index of publications and access to the publications themselves online can be a very efficient way to research/learn/study.

    What we need is more, open content online, and even better access to it–not the other way around.

  33. Heh Google searches lead to wikipedia, else, it’s a great resource for finding sales on %topic% at %ecommerce site%, which makes for riveting reading.

  34. Heh Google searches lead to wikipedia, else, it’s a great resource for finding sales on %topic% at %ecommerce site%, which makes for riveting reading.

  35. Cripes. Banning Google is like banning the card catalog. Google isn’t a source of information, but just an index of it. Banning Wikipedia itself might make a bit more sense, but not because it’s ‘unreliable’. You can’t cite paper encyclopedias, either. They (and Wikipedia) are, from a research point of view, just a more-heavily annotated index to the raw information.

    Part of the problem with the students is probably that high-school and most undergrad ‘research’ projects are really just playing at it. When you’re writing a 10-page paper on the Causes Of The American Civil War, your treatment of the subject is necessarily going to be so superficial that you don’t actually need more information than you can find in Wikipedia.

    The goal of these assignments is not to get them to do original research, but to teach them the rules and conventions of the genre. The point of actual research, though, is to synthesize *new* knowledge, rather than just summarize what a bunch of different sources say. That the students aren’t expected to generate new knowledge from their research undermines the whole exercise a bit, and likely leaves some of them confused about the point: hence quotes from Wikipedia.

  36. Cripes. Banning Google is like banning the card catalog. Google isn’t a source of information, but just an index of it. Banning Wikipedia itself might make a bit more sense, but not because it’s ‘unreliable’. You can’t cite paper encyclopedias, either. They (and Wikipedia) are, from a research point of view, just a more-heavily annotated index to the raw information.

    Part of the problem with the students is probably that high-school and most undergrad ‘research’ projects are really just playing at it. When you’re writing a 10-page paper on the Causes Of The American Civil War, your treatment of the subject is necessarily going to be so superficial that you don’t actually need more information than you can find in Wikipedia.

    The goal of these assignments is not to get them to do original research, but to teach them the rules and conventions of the genre. The point of actual research, though, is to synthesize *new* knowledge, rather than just summarize what a bunch of different sources say. That the students aren’t expected to generate new knowledge from their research undermines the whole exercise a bit, and likely leaves some of them confused about the point: hence quotes from Wikipedia.

  37. Although it sound draconian (and it is), if a professor wants to force students to use actual research tools (and Wikipedia isn’t and never will be), banning the outright use of the sites is the only way to actually accomplish that. I’m a student – if you don’t set the parameters just so – especially for research sources – you will end up with utter crap as the results (I have watched peers do this for years). While banning Google might be a bit much – banning Google as a primary source seems totally acceptable to me.

    None of my profeessors outright ban Google, but I guarantee that if I tried to use Wikipedia as or a generic Google queery as a source for ANYTHING, I would be laughed out of the classroom and given a failing grade. And that would be deserved. Plus, let’s not forget that almost every college or university has access to systems like Lexis-Nexis (I can even access that from home using my student ID login – I have to be on campus to access West Law, but Lexis is a God-send) and other research databases that are not only much better and more reliable, but frankly, as easy to use as Google or Wikipedia anyway.

    Students use Google and Wikipedia because they are lazy and they want to avoid real work — if banning those sources is the only way to get them to actually learn/work/research, how can you fault that?

Comments are closed.