Students are urged to stay away from Wikipedia and Google for research
- Mar. 5, 2013
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“Don’t use Wikipedia,” is the caution that every freshman in Dr. Susan K. Thomas’s English 102 class is altogether too used to hearing. Thomas, who has taught writing research papers to undergraduate students at KU since 2005, has watched students’ research techniques evolve as the Internet has made information and resources more accessible.
“Unfortunately, the students have become lazier,” Dr. Susan K. Thomas said. “They want the quick answer — they want to be able to Google it. They want things to be handed to them more.”
In a digital era where her students would prefer to click the first result that pops up on a Google search, Thomas prods students into reviewing an article’s sources and thinking critically. When she assigns a 6-10 page paper over topics like bodily perceptions, her freshman are expected to go more in-depth than simply discussing the vanity of piercings and tattoos. Her students must research using academic, peer-reviewed journals and evaluate the author’s credentials.
Googling, Thomas said, is an easy place to get research ideas but its results must be searched through more reliable databases like JSTOR. Despite high resource standards, Thomas too begins her research by running ideas through Google and Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia is an excellent place to start research but you can’t stop there,” said Erin Ellis, the Head of Libraries Instructional Services at Anschutz Library. “A lot of times, those entries will have really good bibliographies at the end. Those are the resources that students should be looking at.”
A librarian either visits Thomas’ classroom or Thomas brings her freshman to Watson Library for a tour to introduce them to academic research at the University. Librarians stress the importance of thorough research and how to determine the authority of the author.
Ellis, who has been a librarian for 10 years, is critical of information found on the open web. While academic journals and even newspapers and magazines require a professional peer or editorial review, posting to the Internet doesn’t go through a professional vetting office and can frequently be incorrect or heavily biased.
“One of the things that we’re really trying to stress is determining who the author is and what their credentials are,” Ellis said. “If you can’t find a name of a person or an organization, that’s a red flag.”
Following up on the author generally means checking their education, credentials and possible association with any organizations. Despite common misconception, organizations and even non-profit organizations often have serious bias — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for example, is a non-profit organization with an agenda to promote animal rights.
“Because you have a Ph.D. or are writing for a non-profit doesn’t necessarily mean that that information is not biased,” Ellis said. “There’s the issue of credibility but also the issue of bias.”
The process of thoroughly evaluating a resource can be time-consuming, said Thomas, but necessary. Finding relevant research can be equally difficult.
“One of the things that I tell my students is don’t expect it to be quick,” Thomas said. “It often takes a little time to read what is valuable and what isn’t. Just because it covers the basic topic doesn’t mean that it’s good.”
Internet access of research resources has changed how students use the University’s libraries. Ellis has noticed a shift as libraries are used more often for congregating and as a social rather than academic space.
“I don’t think the library is being used as much to access resources,” Ellis said. “We don’t see students crawling in the stacks looking for resources anymore; they’re on the computer. And you can use a computer anywhere you have an Internet connection.”
The University Libraries houses librarians specialized in each major offered on campus who can walk students through research procedures, discuss techniques or introduce to certain books and resources. The list of subject librarians and their contact information is available on the KU Libraries website.
Emily is a sophomore studying English from Kansas City, Kan. Read more from Emily Donovan.