“Digital Wisdom” and the Balance Between Google and “Academic” Search

I was intrigued by and appreciative of the article “Beyond Google and the ‘Satisficing’ Searching of Digital Natives” authored by Kennedy and Judd. A lot of the article rang true with my own experience as a teacher, since across the disciplines the first, and only (if the students had their way) search tool was Google.  Emphasis for digital natives is often on speed, not quality.  Teachers need to be thoughtful about how they teach their kids online searching methods.  The authors are concerned about the lack of reliability, authority, and peer-review in Google search results.  While this is undoubtedly true, I have a few caveats with too strong an emphasis on those qualities, as I think tilting too far in their direction renders powerless some of the revolutionary benefits that the internet has to offer.

I am only knowledgeable here of the fields that I am interested in: classical studies, archaeology, digital humanities, education technology, and related disciplines.  Nevertheless, within these fields, a lot of high quality material is published in blog format, with no peer review.  Because there is no paywall in front of these blogs, they are readily available and I suspect this pushes them to the top of more google search results. So, how can a student gauge the reliability of these sources? They can see who the author is, sure, and see if that author is a professor or something else “authoritative”. But this cannot be the end of the road, as especially in humanities disciplines things are a bit more subjective and centers of authority aren’t as clearly established. The extreme position of what I’m getting at here is that it shouldn’t matter who said it, or in what context, or if it’s been reviewed by authoritative peers. The internet makes available these voices that haven’t been heard, the brilliant people who for whatever reason didn’t play the academic game required to garner them authority and conventional publication.  The only thing that a student can do with these sources is read them and try to establish their merit. This poses another conundrum, because if students are learning about something they don’t already know about (usually the case), they have no framework from which to evaluate different sources. Framed this way, the easy route for students looking for quality sources is to look for conventionally authoritative sources through more sophisticated search channels, and the harder but potentially enriching route is for them to seek out (through google, why not?), those sources written outside typical power spheres, to dig through the admittedly muddy internet for those jewels that do exist and deserve to be found and read.   The last thing that I want students to think is: “If this hasn’t been stamped with the standard seals of authority and legitimacy, it’s not worth reading”.

So, I like the authors’ idea of “digital wisdom” as it seeks to strike a balance between Google and other, more sophisticated search tools, this balance is important to me since it is the Google results that really embody the power and beauty of the internet as an open platform for publication, discussion, and collaboration.

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6 thoughts on ““Digital Wisdom” and the Balance Between Google and “Academic” Search

  1. I like where you’re going with the unconventional and unvetted voices that google searches may procure. Many of whom may be quite competent and insightful and quite possibly even brilliant. For my area of study, Native American religious traditions and Tibetan Buddhism, the likelihood of compromised and even quite inaccurate information online is high, particularly with the former subject. I do provide them with a list of “approved” sources online but still the seduction of these other more bizarre and romanticized sites are too great. And so my point is, that yes, I agree, there are some amazing sources online that are non-academic but for my area, the best of these come from the communities themselves, i.e. Native bloggers, etc. Once I emphasized this to my students than they were able to (slightly) better discern the muck from the pearls.

  2. I really enjoyed your post, and your call for recognition of sources which are informative and credible, yet exist outside the more readily legitimated realm of academia. In class today I brought up the need for students to be more well-versed in how to use library resources and seek out scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. However, finding, weighing the credibility of and using sources other than those that have been published in well-known journals or books is another skill that is needed to be able to wade through the incredible amount of information out there on the web. While steering students toward the academic publications is necessary, educators also need to develop the skill-set for teaching students how to effectively utilize other rich sources of information outside of these publications. I’ve never thought to address this skill to my students, but this post gives me a lot of think about in terms of considering sources other than those that can be found on the library website.

  3. I like what you posted that the brilliant people are finding their own merits, and doubt the authority and conventional publication. In the current publications, the library database is full of articles with credited peer reviewing and citations. It’s the seeker who would decide which to follow or target on to disagree. The affluent library resource actually gears the graduate students for objective judgment, by collecting journal data and finding their own merits. In the process of empirical readings, it’s important not been guided by the explicit purposes or tendency. However, exploring the website, the more comparing, analyzing and thinking about them, the more developed digital natives to be.

  4. You all make excellent points. I especially liked Gabe’s point that it’s in some ways easier for students to seek conventional, vetted sources but actually much harder to sift through other sources. I guess the bottom line is that the ideal assignment is such that we ask students to make sense of what is known (or what they think is known) and then be critical and analytical about what they quote.

  5. One thing I think is important that is kind of a first step is to make the students CARE that information is reliable and vetted. My students all seem to have a decent understand that everything you read on the internet isn’t true… unless you need it for a term paper. It might be an interesting exercise to have students find a handful of sources about X on the internet and critique them according to some guiding criteria: who wrote this? do they have any authority to speak on this subject? do they cite their material? does what they say seem meaninglessly opinionated, or do they reason out an argument? etc. I can imagine this would help several students with critical thinking skills, as well as get them to actually do more reading in general if they find these questions are useful and make their writing better.

  6. Di, that is a great idea for an exercise. I’ve often thought of doing something like that but always end up thinking I can’t afford the time. But in the big picture, it would probably be time well spent, not just for my class, but for the students’ academic future.

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