Thursday, 24 January 2008

Banning Google?

I've just read the Guardian's interview with Tara Brabazon, Professor of Media Studies at Brighton University. She describes how she has banned the use of google by her first year students, by refusing to grade anything based on material she has not prescribed for them. From the article: "I give my first-years a good curriculum based on 200 extracts from refereed journals and books," she says, "and I'm happy for them to use those as sources exclusively."

At first this seems a little bizarre. Shouldn't the students be looking for reference material themselves? Emma Duke-Williams, on her blog, remarks "I'm assuming that she would allow them to use Google to locate other academics websites, to use Google Scholar to find new references..."

On one hand, I'm quite persuaded by Prof. Brabazon's explanation: "I'm not asking them to be independent scholars at this stage. Rather, I'm building what I call an information scaffold. I'm guiding them through complicated ideas, and getting them to read high-quality materials. Young minds are like diamonds. They need sharpening and polishing. Too many assumptions are made about their ability to manage the transition from school to university."

So, her first year students are not yet mature enough in their scholarship to make judgements about sources of information. I tend to agree with that. But I have to ask, when and how do we expect them to learn this skill?


andrew said...

Firstly, why ban Google? That's like banning use of indexes in encyclopedias. We have the same conceptual problem with students citing 'Google Images' as the source of their essay figures.

On the real point about sources of knowledges, my take is that Google, Wikipedia et al are wonderful tools and resources but represent an entirely different attitude to knowledge than 'scientific literature'. I have been trying to encourage students to consider the difference between what "the guy in the pub told me" and what they read in the Irish Times.

The problem is that the top Google hits ARE knowledge to many students. When my primary school age son needs information for a project he googles, copy-pastes and prints. His teacher is happy that he has engaged with the task. Eventually he will arrive at university with this 'skill' for completing knowledge-dependent tasks.

My 7 year old daughter recently asked me what we used to call the machine you put the black round things on to make music. Never mind the audiophiles who consider analogue records to give much better sound depth. Is the problem that textbooks, scientific journals etc are seen by students as fulfilling the same quaint niche roles as record players and fax machines?

Iain said...

It's ultimately a bit silly. After all how many of us in academia ourselves when seeking infomation refuse to use Google? Google Scholar and google books are beginning also to become quite useful and only by doing comparative analyses of the results of using Google versus other literature search techniques will students appreciate the underlying point she is trying to get across.

There's a danger that carrying this forward students will be asked only to submit coursework written in a quill pen on parchment.

Iain said...

but of course, reading the article now then it makes a bit more sense than simply headlining it as 'banning' google. if she is teaching the specific skills of paraphrasing and comparing specific articles/references then fair enough for giving them a limited set of articles to use. But no extra credit for using other resources and finding relevant materials? I take it that's addressed somewhere else in her course.