Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter


FALL 2004

Beyond Google: Teaching Students the Meaning of Research

Is “Google Scholar” An Oxymoron?

Google ScholarGoogle Scholar is a new pilot search engine designed “to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research.”

What will be the impact of Google Scholar on students' research habits? Will they find more relevant material than in a regular Google search while becoming even less likely to search better, but less convenient, print and
electronic resources?

Check out Google Scholar and submit your thoughts to the BC Libraries.

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 specialist.

Questions, comments? Contact the BC Libraries Newsletter Review Board.