Friday, November 12, 2010

Improving Online Research

Here's an idea for improving online research. I don't know if you saw the article referenced in The Chronicle recently on students' general confusion over research. (I just glanced at this and nodded, what social scientists would call the 'confirmation bias'--reading sources that confirm what I already know.) This gave me a sort of Eureka moment, assuredly minor, but here it is. Our students are bewildered by print. It looks all the same to them. A search on LexisNexis yields a myriad of citations on most any topic. Moreover, they don't know the difference between reputable newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post or USA Today. (Btw, insert mini-rant about its former CEO now running the NYC school system as chancellor here.) Without knowing the legacy of print, they can't be expected to imagine what's gone missing when all that content has gone online in whatever forms....

But students might have a better chance at understanding video. We have been using some academic voices in class for my cluster, short videos with speakers including Oliver Sacks, cognitive scientists, the futurist Ray Kurzweil, et al. Following up with the idea that many serious academics have popular blogs, they are also on YouTube giving papers, debating, contributing to serious talk shows. So I found a sample of a Princeton molecular biologist and public affairs professor on C-Span named Lee Silver, who delivered a truly cogent argument on why human cloning will one day be acceptable as ivf as a reproductive option for prospective parents. (In class i mentioned that in certain cultures, however, the ability to choose the gender of a child, by cloning either father or mother might be, well, somewhat unequal).

We then could do a search for a 'responsible' article on the subject written by the same speaker. We also discussed markers of prospective responsible videos on YouTube: C-Span, PBS, speakers dressed for business on a stage (and not in t-shirts on a couch in an apartment, for example. Also avoid any YouTube with a cat. That will probably lead nowhere). We discussed the idea of a 'talking head' -- remember that from early media studies? You know, students probably don't know what that is since so much of our media landscape has the swooping camera work of a video game or a reality TV show.

Anyway, perhaps by doing some searching on YouTube and viewing and understanding the words of a 'responsible' speaker, students could find a side door to locating sources effectively that would fit and would be approachable and more on targer. Moreover, I showed them how to cite YouTube clips, which means they could develop not one--but two!--sources at a time this way. Using visual literacy to promote critical thinking about research sources.... Or something like that! It will be interesting to see what I get in terms of set of sources, due soon, along with preliminary drafts....


  1. Hey Rich-- I was trying to find the Chronicle article, but apparently my research skills are not very good :-) Is there any chance you could shoot it by us?

  2. Somewhat related note, the education section of youtube has some nice presentations, lessons, etc.

  3. I like the idea of teaching your students how to cite YouTube clips--it's sort of a Trojan Horse for sneaking citation and intellectual property awareness into a mode they're familiar with. The question then becomes: can they apply the same skills across formats to cite a print source?