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. 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?

  2. My poor son has limited net access and that is throttled into uselessness. the vista laptop he is using is lightyears ahead of anything his teachers have, but it’s not due to funding, it’s because teachers used to be the conduit for information, and many now feel threatened by the free flow of it. Viva la Revolucion!

  3. My poor son has limited net access and that is throttled into uselessness. the vista laptop he is using is lightyears ahead of anything his teachers have, but it’s not due to funding, it’s because teachers used to be the conduit for information, and many now feel threatened by the free flow of it. Viva la Revolucion!

  4. Banning Google and Wikipedia is not the solution, just like burying one’s head in the sand isn’t. Instead, we should teach students how to work with these tools (and others) to do proper research. Finding information is not a problem for students, but evaluating, synthesizing, and using it as a basis for decision making are skills we (educators) need to help them with.

    @comment #10, most universities subscribe to online databases, so enrolled students have free access to full-text journal articles.

  5. Banning Google and Wikipedia is not the solution, just like burying one’s head in the sand isn’t. Instead, we should teach students how to work with these tools (and others) to do proper research. Finding information is not a problem for students, but evaluating, synthesizing, and using it as a basis for decision making are skills we (educators) need to help them with.

    @comment #10, most universities subscribe to online databases, so enrolled students have free access to full-text journal articles.

  6. I agree with Scoble. I’ve seen studies that show that the accuracy of a collective group of peers is generally much greater than that the accuracy of a few “experts”. That’s the power of wikipedia: if something is incorrect, someone else has the ability to edit the content. I’m tired of professors that think their opinion is the only correct one because they’re an “expert” in their field.

  7. I agree with Scoble. I’ve seen studies that show that the accuracy of a collective group of peers is generally much greater than that the accuracy of a few “experts”. That’s the power of wikipedia: if something is incorrect, someone else has the ability to edit the content. I’m tired of professors that think their opinion is the only correct one because they’re an “expert” in their field.

  8. Scoble – Good stuff. I come from a social sciences background and research was my bread and butter – Now I’m in the technology industry and I think what some business leaders/managers consider “researched” to be ludicrous. For instance, you’ll find out a really important business decision for a company made be made on research from anecdotal and Wiki-dotal experiences. It’s dangerous.

    JeffU – Thanks for bringing be back to the old size 13 font days. Good stuff.

    Ian Betteridge – Using a tool like google may be bad, but it certainly shouldn’t be restricted. I do agree though, google search isn’t random, not is it unbiased.

    Cheers

  9. Scoble – Good stuff. I come from a social sciences background and research was my bread and butter – Now I’m in the technology industry and I think what some business leaders/managers consider “researched” to be ludicrous. For instance, you’ll find out a really important business decision for a company made be made on research from anecdotal and Wiki-dotal experiences. It’s dangerous.

    JeffU – Thanks for bringing be back to the old size 13 font days. Good stuff.

    Ian Betteridge – Using a tool like google may be bad, but it certainly shouldn’t be restricted. I do agree though, google search isn’t random, not is it unbiased.

    Cheers

  10. Back when I was a student (I’m older then Robert and probably most of his readers) we were always very limited on the use of encyclopedias. I don’t see why Wikipedia should be any different. And while using a search engine is probably a reasonable start for research I think what professors are rightly banning is really the taking what ever you find there at face value. I don’t see a problem with that at all.

    And if you think “just grade harder” is easy well I think you need to spend some time teaching a course and grading papers. Spend a semester teaching a real course (even in elementary school) and you will learn a lot. Trust me on that one.

  11. Back when I was a student (I’m older then Robert and probably most of his readers) we were always very limited on the use of encyclopedias. I don’t see why Wikipedia should be any different. And while using a search engine is probably a reasonable start for research I think what professors are rightly banning is really the taking what ever you find there at face value. I don’t see a problem with that at all.

    And if you think “just grade harder” is easy well I think you need to spend some time teaching a course and grading papers. Spend a semester teaching a real course (even in elementary school) and you will learn a lot. Trust me on that one.

  12. Instead of banning these incredible resources – which are here to stay! – teacher should educate their students how they can use them for exploratory research.

    I agree that Wikipedia should never be used as a reference in academic context (let alone in a US Courtroom!) and Google may not bring up the most relevant/important pieces of information, but as long as the students are aware of the benefits and downfalls they should be free to use these tools.

    Why send someone to the basement of the library if it’s on the internet?

    Good point about grading tougher too. If students use superficial information, mark them down.

  13. Instead of banning these incredible resources – which are here to stay! – teacher should educate their students how they can use them for exploratory research.

    I agree that Wikipedia should never be used as a reference in academic context (let alone in a US Courtroom!) and Google may not bring up the most relevant/important pieces of information, but as long as the students are aware of the benefits and downfalls they should be free to use these tools.

    Why send someone to the basement of the library if it’s on the internet?

    Good point about grading tougher too. If students use superficial information, mark them down.

  14. It seemed retro (was that a word in 1985?) to hook a daisywheel printer up to a Fat Mac to fake typewriting, but that’s what we did.

  15. It seemed retro (was that a word in 1985?) to hook a daisywheel printer up to a Fat Mac to fake typewriting, but that’s what we did.

  16. Robert, there’s a massive difference between your experience with using a computer to write and banning using Google.

    For academic work, Google is a BAD tool for students to get into the habit of using as their primary method of research. It encourages you to pick up on sources because of their popularity, rather than their accuracy or relevance. It encourages skim-reading, rather than deep work, which is what you’re trying to encourage with academic study. And, unfortunately, it makes it far too easy to parrot what someone else is saying rather than using sources and thinking for yourself.

  17. Robert, there’s a massive difference between your experience with using a computer to write and banning using Google.

    For academic work, Google is a BAD tool for students to get into the habit of using as their primary method of research. It encourages you to pick up on sources because of their popularity, rather than their accuracy or relevance. It encourages skim-reading, rather than deep work, which is what you’re trying to encourage with academic study. And, unfortunately, it makes it far too easy to parrot what someone else is saying rather than using sources and thinking for yourself.

  18. This brings up the issue about the future of the INVISIBLE WEB as a resource.

    While Wikipedia does cite other referenced articles – but Google is often usually well rounded in what usually come up on the first page. Detailed information can be attained, but one has to be a professional researcher and willing to analyze at least the first one hundred results to get bits and pieces from the relevant sites.

    Getting deeper more detailed information about a subject will often require visiting niche websites such as science or law journals.

    However – unless you are willing to travel to a reference library to get hard copies – most of those sites are subscription based because they do not have the commercial appeal of the popular sites.

    Budget minded students may be reluctant to subscribe unless there will be a frequent need for the resource.

  19. This brings up the issue about the future of the INVISIBLE WEB as a resource.

    While Wikipedia does cite other referenced articles – but Google is often usually well rounded in what usually come up on the first page. Detailed information can be attained, but one has to be a professional researcher and willing to analyze at least the first one hundred results to get bits and pieces from the relevant sites.

    Getting deeper more detailed information about a subject will often require visiting niche websites such as science or law journals.

    However – unless you are willing to travel to a reference library to get hard copies – most of those sites are subscription based because they do not have the commercial appeal of the popular sites.

    Budget minded students may be reluctant to subscribe unless there will be a frequent need for the resource.

  20. The real problem is that students aren’t taught proper research skills. The Internet makes it easy to to do research, but students need to be taught how to weigh sources and verify facts. I don’t think my own son ever had to do a really proper research paper until college.

    Now back in MY day (she says, shaking her cane for emphasis) we wrote ten-page long research papers for semester projects. In public school. If we’d have had the Internet at the time, online research (even properly done) wouldn’t have been adequate for that sort of project. These days 1000 words is a long paper.

    (Just so you know that I didn’t quite grow up in the Dark Ages, we had a teletype with a 150 baud connection to the university.)

  21. The real problem is that students aren’t taught proper research skills. The Internet makes it easy to to do research, but students need to be taught how to weigh sources and verify facts. I don’t think my own son ever had to do a really proper research paper until college.

    Now back in MY day (she says, shaking her cane for emphasis) we wrote ten-page long research papers for semester projects. In public school. If we’d have had the Internet at the time, online research (even properly done) wouldn’t have been adequate for that sort of project. These days 1000 words is a long paper.

    (Just so you know that I didn’t quite grow up in the Dark Ages, we had a teletype with a 150 baud connection to the university.)

  22. In my day…taking it back a few more years – they made us use slide rules instead of calculators for high school math. With the same justification. My mad slide-rule skillz have served me well since then (not!).

  23. In my day…taking it back a few more years – they made us use slide rules instead of calculators for high school math. With the same justification. My mad slide-rule skillz have served me well since then (not!).

  24. I remember when research papers in high school were supposed to be x pages long but there were no restrictions on what font size you could use. I felt like such a rebel when I squeezed an extra page or two out by going to 13 point.

  25. I remember when research papers in high school were supposed to be x pages long but there were no restrictions on what font size you could use. I felt like such a rebel when I squeezed an extra page or two out by going to 13 point.

  26. How about failing them if they don’t produce the quality of work required? Seems like Google/Wikipedia/’the Internet’ is being used as an excuse for having dumb students.

    Perhaps the students need better guidance on the standards required.

    The attack (I believe) is on the internet in general (Google connects searches to sites), but off the top of my head I can think *lots* of ways technology can be used to learn better (and perhaps enjoy it as well).

  27. How about failing them if they don’t produce the quality of work required? Seems like Google/Wikipedia/’the Internet’ is being used as an excuse for having dumb students.

    Perhaps the students need better guidance on the standards required.

    The attack (I believe) is on the internet in general (Google connects searches to sites), but off the top of my head I can think *lots* of ways technology can be used to learn better (and perhaps enjoy it as well).

  28. I don’t think students should be allowed to cite Wikipedia unless they also cite a supporting primary source (possibly also cited by a Wikipedia article). I think this professor’s real point is to ensure that students think critically about information sources.

  29. I don’t think students should be allowed to cite Wikipedia unless they also cite a supporting primary source (possibly also cited by a Wikipedia article). I think this professor’s real point is to ensure that students think critically about information sources.

  30. I think Dave and Walter are among the excellent ! Many people feel that fact checking is just extra work, when in fact it is the basis for teaching anything ![Opinion] Look at Scobie he lets it fly and then tortures his critics by making them decide whether he is correct or “Ok With Corrections!” I am 71 was educated at a private high school by the bare knuckles crowd! A c+ taught you the value of research !

  31. I think Dave and Walter are among the excellent ! Many people feel that fact checking is just extra work, when in fact it is the basis for teaching anything ![Opinion] Look at Scobie he lets it fly and then tortures his critics by making them decide whether he is correct or “Ok With Corrections!” I am 71 was educated at a private high school by the bare knuckles crowd! A c+ taught you the value of research !

  32. When teaching I encourage my students to search Google/Yahoo/ect. but to also take everything with a grain of salt. Just because something ranks first, doesn’t mean it right. When they would ignore me, I’d thump their grade for turning in something that was incorrect telling them to check their sources.

    I’d allow Wikipedia for homework and basic papers, but not research papers as it is harder to verify sources and has not been peer reviewed from an academic standpoint.

  33. When teaching I encourage my students to search Google/Yahoo/ect. but to also take everything with a grain of salt. Just because something ranks first, doesn’t mean it right. When they would ignore me, I’d thump their grade for turning in something that was incorrect telling them to check their sources.

    I’d allow Wikipedia for homework and basic papers, but not research papers as it is harder to verify sources and has not been peer reviewed from an academic standpoint.

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