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.