In an attempt to wean her students off of what she calls ‘white bread for the mind’ one University of Brighton professor has banned her students from using either Google or Wikipedia in their research for the first year of study. Instead, in what many will consider a neo-Luddite move, they get given a selection of some 200 peer-reviewed printed text extracts as research material.
The professor of media studies is no newbie, looking to get noticed, either. Tara Babazon has been teaching at university level for no less than 18 years. But an article in The Times suggests that Brabazon thinks the ‘University of Google’ is producing a generation of students ill equipped with the skills they require to be able to interpret and filter online information, a generation reliant upon unreliable information and with no true sense of academic curiosity.
Continuing the white bread analogy, Brabazon insists that “Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content.”
Of course, Brabazon is not alone in believing that the Internet has created a flattened expertise research facility where every personalised truth appears as equal and as valid as the next but in reality most are at best unsubstantiated opinion. What she is suggesting is that students need to be taught how to think, in a dynamic and critical sense, before they Go Google. The argument being that in the pre-digital education research age this ability to think about information was less critical as printed text books, on the whole, were subject to a peer review process and much more likely to be factual than the data free for all that the web provides.
Blaming Google or Wikipedia, however, is wrong. Instead the attention needs to be focused upon the education system itself. Surely if it is churning out young adults with no concept of being able to filter the information before them, no ability to make informed decisions, none of that dynamic thinking that Brabazon is talking about then it has failed our children miserably. Used properly the web, and tools such as Google and Wikipedia, offer the opportunity to greatly improve learning not to hinder it. Let’s get back to basics and start producing interested, energetic and thoughtful students rather than academic automatons simply looking for the laziest route to a degree…