Beyond Google: Teaching Students the Meaning of Research
Is Google Scholar An Oxymoron?
Google and other search engines have opened access to a wealth
of information unimaginable just a few years ago. But do your
students know when and how to do more than simple "Googling?"
Do they engage in "conversation" with scholars and their
ideas as found in books, journals, and, yes, on the Web?
As part of an effort to enhance the library research instructional
program, the BC Libraries recently surveyed faculty in several
departments to get their perspective on the quality of students'
research in the Internet Age. The survey was part of the Libraries'
ongoing effort to understand and improve students' "information
competency" through instruction, individual consultations,
and collaboration with faculty. Here is some of what we heard.
"Some students seem to think Google is the ONLY place to
go," said a faculty member from the English Department. "MLA
and other databases (not to mention good old-fashioned bound books
in actual stacks in an actual bricks and mortar building) sometimes
don't seem to cross their radar screens without a bit of prompting."
A Psychology faculty member stated "Sadly, I suspect that
many are just 'lazy' about doing the investigative work that goes
into a research project. It would be useful to stress to students
that this 'hard investigative work' is part of the research process,
so that they know that they should perhaps be investigating more
than they often do."
"Students certainly find Google seductive," said a
First Year Writing Seminar instructor. "I think one way to
move beyond it is to engage with it directly. In other words,
show them how a search engine works and the kinds of the things
you can expect to get from it (or can't). Then move beyond it
to other databases, books, and other resources."
Several faculty members said the problem is not just where students
search, but how they search and what they do with the results.
"As we all know, there's a huge divide between information,
and what constitutes actual research vis-à-vis a problem
being solved," said a Carroll School of Management faculty
member. "With the ease of access that the Internet has provided,
unfortunately, an increasing subset of students occasionally looks
to research as more of a check-off-the-box exercise."
"They have the ability to find research or data-based articles
but the quality of their papers are often poor from the perspective
of being able to synthesize the information," commented a
Nursing faculty member. "There is a tendency to just list
what they find rather than thinking through what they find and
presenting cogent arguments or positions."
Research instruction, from faculty and librarians, was seen by
many as essential. Last year alone librarians conducted 316 sessions
for 12,070 students in various Boston College departments. "By
going through BC library staff, they learn how to do EFFECTIVE
research and get to a robust conclusion, rather than simply finding
information," said a CSOM faculty member.
In an effort to expand the benefits of library research instruction,
the BC Libraries are working to implement standard based instructional
programs defined in part by the Association
of College and Research Libraries Information Literacy Competency
Standards for Higher Education.
"At the undergraduate level, I think they often need guidance
navigating what is, by anyone's standards, an incredibly complex
web of information," added an English Professor. "This
help needs to come at every level, from how to find good information,
to how to cite Internet sources, etc. With that guidance, they
do quite well in my experience; the end results are, by and large,
strong examples of responsible research."
Librarians are available to partner with faculty in the effort
to guide and educate students to critically evaluate their information
needs and develop effective research strategies. For more information
on working with BC librarians on improving student research, contact
your library subject