Do Students Still Need to Steer Clear of the Internet?

Jona Lendering posted a reply on his blog to a recent post on mine, about teaching students to use online sources discerningly. His conclusion is stated bluntly at the end of the post:

To sum up: at this moment there is no good reason why students should use the internet. Let’s face it: the internet has failed.

I strongly disagree, both on principle and in practice.

On principle, I think that there is reliable information available online, if one knows where to look and how to sift the wheat from the chaff. Even just limiting oneself to Google Books, there are lots of scholarly books available with substantial previews. There are articles on faculty web pages. And so even without the even better selection one may have if one gets access to JSTOR or NetLibrary through a public or university library, there are good things out there. And if there weren’t, then we scholars would have to be ashamed of ourselves because it is not up to others to get reliable information to the public. That is our job.

In practice, even if the above were not true, it would be the case that students will turn to the web for answers. And so we must address that reality. They do need to be prepared for instances when the internet is down – but we live in a wired world, and we need to teach students how to live in that world, not how to unplug and hunt down physical paper while others who’ve been taught differently locate the same answers as they do without those antiquated means, and more quickly and efficiently.

(Roger Pearse has also chimed in, and I understand him to agree with Jona primarily because of the travesty that most scholarly perspectives are locked behind paywalls, unaccessible to the general public. See too Tracy Mitrano’s piece in Inside Higher Ed about plagiarism before the internet.)

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  • Paul Regnier
  • Paul Regnier

    I’m on your side on this one Dr McG.

    As a secondary school teacher, I’ve found the internet to be a very useful teaching aid. Young people use the internet – it’s just a part of their everyday life. You can’t uninvent it, so the emphasis should be on ensuring students use it sensibly and constructively.

    I’ve found a class facebook group to be a really useful way of sharing articles, links, videos etc with students (I’ve even linked to a couple of your blog posts), as well as giving students a place for students to asking questions to each other or to me whenever they think of them, rather than waiting for the next lesson. The author of one of our textbooks has also joined and sometimes contributes her own thoughts or just general encouragement. That kind of thing would have been impossible in the days before the internet and I think it’s great.

    There are certain dangers of course – I’ve had plenty of essays that are just copy and pasted from wikipedia, but I think they’re fairly easy to spot and if you’re tough on it, students will get the message.

    I appreciate that the research required for University study is different to that for secondary school, but I still think the internet has its place. When I was writing my undergraduate dissertation I had to make use of online resources because my topic (Kazantzakis’ use of NT Apocrypha) had generated little printed work for me to draw on: I don’t think that use of the internet necessarily implies laziness, it’s how and why the students use it.

    From my Uni days, there was also plenty of laziness with written sources, e.g. reading one or two textbook chapters and puffing up an essay with references that hadn’t really been used. A good friend of mine boasted that he made it through three years at University without ever reading a whole book!