Friday, January 18, 2008

Banning Google and other ideas

There's a lively debate about information literacy and critical evaluation skills over at The Wired Campus today. Apparently a British professor is expected to ban students from using Google or Wikipedia in her course.
The post compares Google to "white bread for the mind."

What does everyone think about that statement? I loathe the idea that I'm feeding my brain white bread. (Who eats white bread anymore, anyhow?) But I also usually turn to Google/Yahoo for my first attempt at solving an information need. Now, I am almost never doing academic research, and perhaps there is the difference. I guess it is simply a question of using the right tool for the right use. Because surely these search engines/wikis are simply tools to be used at appropriate times, I agree with eFoundations.

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney here (who is forever on my black list because he dissed librarians), it reminds me of my theory that people who shop exclusively at Wal-Mart are statistically predisposed to have a lower quality of life. I have this theory because almost nothing in Wal-Mart seems to be made with attention to detail, design or beauty. It is all about function and price. And sometimes as a consumer, all you care about is function and price.

But other times you are willing to spend the money for high-style Italian leather sofas. But if you only shop at Wal-Mart to the exclusion of all else, you have no hope of ever even seeing the beautiful sofa because you mistakenly think the only universe available to you is what is on aisle 10.

As a shopper, you need to know there are times for Wal-Mart and there are times for Roche Bobois. And plenty of times for something in between. The same might go for information literacy? Or is it too crass a comparison.

9 comments:

Emily Lloyd said...

Hi--I blogged about this in comic strip form earlier this week, if you're interested:

http://shelfcheck.blogspot.com/2008/01/shelf-check-178.html

http://shelfcheck.blogspot.com/2008/01/shelf-check-179.html

My main feeling is that banning isn't the answer (she banned Google--but what about Dogpile, Blackle, Yahoo--where does it end? what does it accomplish, aside from symbolism and publicity?), requiring deeper research is. So: require stuff like Academic Search Premier; require students to learn advanced search operators when using search engines (and record what they typed in the search box)...interestingly, there's a Wikipedia entry on Tara Brabazon, the professor in question (I didn't look closely enough to determine if it just sprang up after this story broke)--it looks like she has quite a few well-thought-out, academic credits...so why ban Google and Wikipedia, so obviously a not-well-thought-out (again, Dogpile, Blackle, etc) action?

Alice said...

Awesome!! Thanks Emily. I've just spent entirely longer than I'd meant to, admiring your comics.

Yes, it will likely have the same effect as prohibition. If you're not supposed to use it or have it, it probably makes you want it that much more!!

Dave said...

Shouldn't the professor's criterion just be about the quality of the students' work and the end result? If the students can find quality research using Google then #1 - more power to them and #2 - the professor should make the assignments more challenging.

If the assignment is to buy seating with mauve velour, there's a cheap and easy place to find it. (I loved your analogy, by the way!)

VC said...

We have teachers that say "Don't use the internet." Don't they understand that most of our journal indexes are on the internet now with full text articles available? How do I as a public librarian tell a high school student that their teacher if full of *&^% because there is plenty of authoratative sources available on the Internet. So the best we can say for this professor is that she knows there might be some good sources on the net. I do agree she should have suggested alternatives.

And who's to stop the student from using Google or Wikipedia as a background source?

Alice said...

Thanks Dave and VC. Good perspectives, both. If you are a teacher giving upper-level assignments that can be researched in total by Google or wikipedia, then perhaps you need to think about tougher assignments. And to assume that EVERYTHING on Google is white bread, is to ignore some of the good work that various peopel have been doing to make high-quality information sources available quickly and easily. (OCLC being one of them, with WorldCat.org!!)

librarianwoes said...

Google is a great tool for research that can and often does lead researchers to solid sources. With Google's "Academic Search," they have added even more utility to serious academic research. The Wikipedia thing is understandable. However, I still think it's a fantastic starting point.

VC as some very salient points. It is very frustrating when a student comes in to do research and can't use "the Internet" because the teacher said so. Sadly, this happens all too frequently. Even after explaining that we subscribe to what are essentially eBooks and use the Internet only as a facilitator the students often refuse to utilize the tools ($$$ this hurts).

If the assignment is to teach that there are other ways to do research then I can understand it. Retro Research 101 can be useful for when the power goes out, just to know that there are other tools available if need be...

John said...

I don't know what is wrong to use the easiest way to find the information when its available. Yes it may reduce your way of thinking but in this fastest world you should use the mobile, it is foolish to approach the postcard for the sake of improve your writing...
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VC said...

Shouldn't these teachers and profs be teaching research skills? Students need to be able to evaluate websites and their sponsors as well as print resources. students should know about verifying information in more than one source. they need to understand how bias may effect a informtion providers point of view. why is this not taught? seems like an easy way out for a prof just to say NO INTERNET.

Do you think that profs in times past said things like "NO BOUND BOOKS only scrolls". or "No mass produced books only hand written by monks?" The need to evaluate informtion on it's merits is not related to media in which its presented.

I would even argue that wikipedia is a valid source of information if you apply critical thinking skills to the information you find there.

inkpetal said...

Alice, I was just breezing through blogs in general and ran across yours. I was happily browsing through when the paragraphs about a theory you concocted froze me in my tracks. I felt I had to respond. I find this theory of yours particularly interesting in that acting in the public role of librarian, you would make statements of such gross insensitivity and further, all armed with unsubstantiated fact and elitist overtones. People do shop at Wal-Mart, generally because they have to do so. Duh. The key word here is budget. You might be lucky enough to sacrifice something or shuffle around thousands of dollars in your budget to accomodate
a gorgeous Italian leather sofa, the price of which might be the equivalent of a 3 month take home salary for many families or mind you, less. Do you imagine most people have your level of take home salary or better? I would guess the majority of shoppers at Wal-Mart are more concerned with feeding and clothing their kids and paying bills on time. Is your theory the equivalent of " I chose to be librarian because I don't have the creativity to write a best selling book filled with wondrous writing or put forth an astonishing poem?" I don't think so, but I might well theorize that. Your postulation that a Wal-Mart shopper is blind to beauty and the values of esthetics is too ignorant to address even further. Shame on you.