It happens regularly in my case that whenever I explain a new essay assignment title to my students, I find them quite forthcoming with their personal ideas and opinions. Yet, when I receive the assignments and start corrected, the lack of a Bibliography or the presence of a poor one would be the main concern in some of the presented assignments.
I do not believe that this issue occurs due to lack of knowledge from the students’ side, they have been schooled in listing a proper bibliography based on accurate literature reviews and they have been taught how to include citations in their writing. They would know that they need to cite their work yet it is sometimes unnerving how some would not even look at the sources available for reading on Moodle sites to guide them in such proceedings.
I have noticed that a class is divided into 3 main elements; there are the students who follow your every gesture and word and make sure that they follow instructions to the letter. These are usually those who almost always pass their exams with flying colours. Here I would like to mention that these students still have an imagination. The fact that they follow instructions does not in any way detract from their imagination. Their essays usually have strong arguments and are quite decently cited when needed.
Then there are the second group of students who pay attention and do try, yet they need more help than the others to be able to give the same excellent performance. These are admirable in that they know that they are not the best students in class, yet they work hard to make themselves competitive. Finally there is the third group of students who end up writing an essay just because it’s another chore that needs to be done.
Yet, all 3 groups still have something in common. They need to be schooled in small groups in the art of research. Because let’s face it, research is an art, the amount of common sense, logic and intuition that one needs to employ in research is not for the faint of heart.
So obviously the first source that most, if not all students, would turn to would be Google – reason being that it is easier to understand than a search result on Google Scholar or on a University Library. I remember a time and age where books were very nearly my only source of information. I HAD to read a whole book to be able to acquire the citations I needed!
But in today’s fast world, reading a whole book is a heavy chore for most of our teen students, let alone read a plethora of books, so as to be able to judge and analyse and choose the pertinent few, needed for the research in question.
A normal Google search gives you a long list of sites, videos and pictures which are linked closely with your search, in this case – ‘Digital Native’, yet what is so evident that most of this information has not been proved in any way and is not academic in nature. This our students cannot comprehend. For most of our students, if it’s on Google then it is beyond argument!
Switching to Google Scholar, the truth is almost immediately evident in front of you. Upon clicking various sources one would realise that these are papers and books on the topic that one would have inputted, papers and books that have been researched extensively by the author/s. They are not simply opinion, hearsay or reporting of situations, but a calculated and extensive study of a particular subject taken from a precise angle to qualify a hypotheses.
The problem lies here – Can we ever expect our students to download and read all these books and papers at home? My opinion remains that our students need to be educated not simply taught. When I ‘tell’ them to do something and I show them how, sometimes it happens, but the results are rarely satisfying. Yet, when one sits with a small group of students (3 or 4) and slowly and methodically does the research in front of them and with them, they learn because they see it happening. This is what we always need to keep in mind – we educate by example. Publishing our own works and making these available as an example works, yet really and truly the way which I believe works best when instructing students is to sit with them and just do it – with them. The look of comprehension in their eyes will make your day.
Before we do it, we need to know the quality or lack thereof in various available sources. As demonstrated in the pictures below, it can easily be noticed that 2 separate searches in Google and Yahoo gave me relevant search results, yet of very little academic substance. Granted that we do find items which can be used in writing an essay, yet there is definitely not enough, and not efficiently cited as an academic resource for a student’s research.
Finally on reverting to Google Scholar, the difference in results was apparent immediately. One can notice the lack of advertisements and the difference in visual setting. But first and foremost one realises that in Google Scholar the focus is on papers and journals and the citation thereof. In fact we immediately see various clickable buttons below each resource. These give the researcher the option to save for future reading or cite in different modes among others. The professional element of this search engine is visible immediately. Yet … my concluding words at this point is – how can we get our students to appreciate these differences and move away from themainstream and the immediate gratification of random Google searches as opposed to more direct and involved research, where the students actually need to have the will to download, read and collect the information they really need for their writing?