Monday, August 29, 2011

PL 49/11: Google and Wikipedia undermine student “research”

Filed under: education — plinius @ 1:30 pm

A US professor of English reports:

These days, the research that students execute does not instill the knowledge and inquisitiveness such assignments presume. When students take on research tasks, here is what they don’t do:

  • Visit the library and browse the stacks.
  • Find an archive and examine primary documents.
  • Read widely in the subject before identifying a subtopic.

Instead, they:

  • Type a term into Google.
  • Consult Wikipedia’s entry on the subject.
  • Download six Web pages, and cut and paste passages.
  • Summarize the citations and sprinkle commentary of their own.
  • Print it up and hand it in.

If the goal is to rehearse prevailing opinion about an issue or event, the Google way has its advantages. If all a teacher wants is information, and the desired skill is information retrieval (plus some evaluation by the student), the Web works best.

In Norway, a film studies student recently got a C (an average grade in the Norwegian system) by using a combination of free fantasy, quotes from It’s learning and text produced by the (in)famous Postmodernism Generator. (Source, in Norwegian)

Mark Bauerlein continues:

But teachers aim higher. Research tasks are supposed to plant deeper understandings — knowledge of the subject, negotiation (not just listing) of diverse perspectives and rigorous habits of mind (curiosity, reflection, critical judgment). Digital tools don’t foster them. Or rather, they might foster them, but they offer too many shortcuts, conveniences and well-digested materials for students to use the tools in meaningful formative ways. Teachers demand better usages (“Don’t just rely on Wikipedia!”), but they’re up against 19-year-olds who love speed and effortlessness.

What’s the answer, I wonder

  • Moral exhortations?
  • Prohibit Google and Wikipedia?

Or a completely different approach to learning, teaching and grading – taking digital reality for granted?


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