Currently, I teach an 8th grade class that focuses solely on research, and my two Senior classes writing research papers. For the last several days, I have listened to students complain that they can’t find enough information for their papers. I have explained that there are books written on many of the topics they have chosen. The problem is not a lack of information. It’s just knowing how to find it.
With Google, Yahoo, Bing, and all the other search engines out there, finding information should be easy. Really, compared to the way research was done 15 or 20 years ago, it is easier. Let me rephrase that; it is a whole lot easier, but I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that it is “easy.”
Research is hard work, even with all the tools that the Web provides. Take a service that searches database archives such as Ebsco Host. Finding good information still takes time, patience, and a certain amount of skill. I am yet to discover a means of finding good information on the Web without work, and this doesn’t only apply to scholarly study. All sorts of information that will help me live a more productive and fulfilling life sits at my fingertips.
Last year, Amber Case gave a TED talk titled “We are all Cyborgs now.” In her talk, she explains how the technology we use, specifically computers and smartphones, become an extension of our brains. While there is some harsh criticism on her ideas, I think she is right in the sense that I no longer have to remember every important fact that I hear and read. I just have to have a means of getting back to that information when I need it in the future. In other words, I have to know how to find it.
The cool thing is that I also have instant access to all sorts of facts and information that I have never heard before. I see the Web as an extension of our brain that is connected to everyone’s brain who uses the internet as depository for what they have learned or even thought and imagined.
It is this thinking and imagining thing that makes research hard. There is so much information packed into this “extension” of our brain, that we have to learn to discern what is good and what is bad. Doing this can make our real brain hurt at times!
Students (and teachers) need to realize that finding good information is hard work. There is no easy way to do it. However, the effort and discipline is worth it and necessary because after wading through the junk, there is a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge to be accessed.
Just think of the advantage a person has who possesses the knowledge of how to find information using the Web.