Friday, March 20, 2009

A New Research Paradigm

Sarah Kubik, an associate faculty member in visual communications and design at Indiana University-Purdue University, writes in today's Inside Higher Ed about the use of online research sources. She is of two minds--on the one hand, she loves print for the same reasons most librarians do. On the other, as a faculty member, she recognizes the fact that today's students naturally gravitate toward digital media; moreover, she herself has embraced technology and the "flow of information" that has come about because of it. Kubik describes a changing landscape. At one time, it was thought to be wrong to cite Wikipedia, and yet now we have judges citing it. At least some online reference sites seem to acknowledge their role in modern scholarship. Wikipedia "wants to make the site more accepting to academic referencing by having 'faculty-approved' sites." Another wiki, Scholarpedia, describes itself as "the peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia written by scholars from all around the world." Kubik's conclusion is that "[i]f we are to use these quality online resources, while insisting on high standards for students, academics need to take seriously issues related to citing materials in media that didn't exist a generation ago more seriously."

This may be beginning to happen in some fields. Kubik points to the new edition of the Modern Language Association's style guide, which "no longer recognizes print as the default medium," and the recent edition of the American Psychological Association style guide, which "includes many different types of electronic referencing." The APA guide provides citation forms for blogs, online journals, email, and podcasts, but doesn't provide for citation to tweets, text messages, or instant messaging, all of which might eventually prove to be "credible and reference-worthy." All of these forms of communication fall under the heading of "personal communication," which Kubik claims is "transitioning into reliable news" through the new phenomenon of "every-man reporting." Kubik believes that academics should not automatically dismiss "groundbreaking information ... delivered from a grassroots leve," but rather should apply a "filtering process" that accepts materials from nontraditional academic sources. As she says, "We need to have sound procedures for citing such materials to show that we are aware of their limitations, but also of their value." Finally, Kubik discusses online-only journals to which she believes the scholarly community should "start attributing intellectual respect." Such journals are often retrieved by students using Google for research, and yet they do not generally have the prestige associated with print journals. She concludes by stating that, "While it once made sense to equate print with quality, it's time to embrace newer forms of communication as valid. If they need academically sound forms of verification and procedures for citation, let's get to work." I couldn't help thinking of the Bluebook, which retains its preference for citation to print materials despite the reality of how the legal community does research today, and wishing that the editors would think about the issues that Kubik raises in her provocative article.

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