Monday, January 14, 2008

White Bread?

Professor Tara Brabazon, who teaches Media Studies at the University of Brighton, will describe Google as "white bread for the mind" in her inaugural lecture at the University on January 16, according to an article in today's Timesonline. She is a veteran teacher who bans her students from "using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study." This sounds vaguely reminiscent of King Canute's attempts to hold back the sea! Instead, she provides students with "200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work." Professor Brabazon wants students to learn how to evaluate information for themselves, so that they will be able to distinguish between "anecdotal and unsubstantiated material posted on the internet" and information that can be trusted. I think her argument is undermined by her own practices--handing students extracts that she has chosen teaches them nothing about finding and evaluating information. Personally, I think it is an exercise in futility to tell students they are not allowed to use Google and Wikipedia during their first year; it's akin to giving students LexisNexis and Westlaw passwords during their first semester of law school, and then telling them they can't use them for their legal research assignments. I do agree with those who do not permit students to cite to Wikipedia in formal written assignments, and with those who want students to use primary sources rather than commentary written about the sources. But banning Google and Wikipedia does not per se teach students anything, and practically guarantees that students will break the rules.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

But I do like the image and slogan. Kind of cute. You are right, of course, that it's as hopeless as King Canute ordering the tide not to come. And teaching the students affirmatively to evaluate websites on their own would be better than handing them the completed list. Thanks for alerting us!