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Why Settle for Google?

posted: 11.4.11 by archived

It’s research time in my comp classes, and I gave my usual spiel about where to find sources “beyond Google”: for the Web, meta-search engines and subject directories like the Internet Public Library; for books, the college’s electronic catalog and Amazon; and for journal articles, of course, the library’s research databases. I feel a particular pressure to sell the databases (more credible information with fewer hits to wade through, what’s not to love?). I tell students about the good old days of walking to school (ten miles barefoot in the snow, or course!) and having to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, hoping the journal I wanted was at my local library, taking notes from a bound periodical or worse, a microfilm machine. I tell them how lucky they are. They nod, clearly unimpressed, and when it’s their turn to start searching, despite the richness of sources available, they go straight to Google.

But here are some of the reasons I don’t care:

  • Google is the way most of us, student and professor alike, find information these days—and there’s an amazing amount of information to be found. Because so many of us rely so heavily on finding information via search engine, students do need to learn how to assess the credibility of that information. A number of tutorials available online can help with that.
  • I see the fear appear in my students’ eyes at the sight of a page of dense, scholarly text. There’s time for that, for those who will choose a more academic path. For most of my first-year students it’s challenge enough to summarize an article from Harper’s or the New Yorker or the New York Times.
  • I try to steer my students away from the global sociopolitical topics that students seem drawn to in response to the traditional argumentative research paper assignment. Instead, I encourage them to draw their research questions from personal experience—everyday matters such as the price of bottled water, the availability of daycare, the aggravation of self-checkout lines at the grocery store. Such topics and questions do not necessarily require scholarly sources.
  • Though quality of sources is certainly something I talk about, it ranks pretty far down on the list. I care more that they cultivate their curiosity; that they understand the necessity of support to bolster their credibility; that they get some practice in the research process, which includes the conventions of academic citation.

In accepting Google searches as a primary research method, am I talking myself into lowering my standards? In practical terms, to encourage students to move beyond just Web site sources, I do generally require that at least half of their sources have originally appeared in print, which allows me to slip in a few nudges toward databases. Is that sufficient in a first-year comp class? What suggestions or limitations do you place on your students’ search for sources?

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas, Teaching with Technology
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