Professors question students’ research methods
February 14, 2013
As students are relying less on libraries and depending more on the Internet, professors are beginning to question students’ research habits.
Jane Smith, coordinator of instruction and government documents librarian, began to teach a one hour research class on how to locate, evaluate and use information.
“The biggest problem with most students’ research skills is that they just want to Google everything,” Smith said. “Google is a wonderful tool but it doesn’t have the sophistication or the access that you need for research.”
Instead of using Google, she recommends using the databases located on the library’s website because academic databases are better than Google for authoritative or scholarly information.
She stated that even when students do use databases, they don’t always know how to properly search on these databases in order to get the most useful information.
“People think that everything’s on the internet,” Smith said. “‘All I have to do is type in a couple words and I’m going to get everything I need.’ They don’t understand that the words that they choose to use are very critical and understanding information structure and how it’s put together.”
If a student needs advice on how to better use databases or the library, Smith said that students can simply make an appointment with any librarian.
“Because there’s so much information out there, it can be overwhelming to navigate your way through it all,” Smith explained. “Asking a professional can’t hurt.”
English department chairperson Dr. Neil Cosgrove said that journal articles are seen as reliable sources of information because they go through long process of peer review before being published. This type of gatekeeping is similar to the editing process that books must also go through before being published.
Blogs, on the other hand, can be created by anybody and can have information that is simply incorrect. With that being said, Cosgrove stated that there are credible blogs with good information. In order to determine if a blog is a good source or not, the student should research the author of the blog to see if he or she is a trusted source of information.
Cosgrove explained that reading multiple sources and cross -referencing is vital to the research process in order to prove that the all of the information is factual. He stated that by reading from multiple sources, you also gain a better understanding of the scope of your topic.
English professor Dr. Nancy Barta-Smith explained that because it takes so long for journals to be published, they are not always the best option for researching current issues.
When this happens, it is a good idea to cross reference journalistic sources in order to make sure that you are getting accurate information about the topic. Because newspaper articles go through much less peer review than journal articles, Barta-Smith recommends using newspapers with positive reputations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.
English Professor Dr. Jason Stuart stated that he does not view the use of Google as a being bad for research because it is pretty much a simplified version of a library.
“Whatever was in the library was what we used,” Stuart said. “We didn’t think, ‘we will go to a different library to get different stuff’. How is that functionally different than what students do, except that we were interfacing with book spines and students are interfacing with Google? It’s not that Google is to blame. People always look at research in a functional viewpoint. ‘What’s closest to me? How can I get this done in the quickest and easiest way possible?’”
Stuart believes that the problem that most students who write research papers have is the mindset that it is better to be efficient than thorough.
“I don’t get anybody asking me if Wikipedia is okay to cite,” Stuart said. “I get people asking me how many citations they need to get an A, as if there was a specific number.”
Stuart stated that students often try to do the minimum amount of work possible to get a good grade, which is something that he sees as a mind-set for students going to a vocational school instead of a university.