Professor Bans Google & Wikipedia : Encourages Critical Thinking & Research

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Professor Brabazon of the University of Brighton is doing her best to break student dependency of the ‘University of Google’, that is trusting the first result in Google or the perceived authority of Wikipedia as a credible source for research. To encourage her students to revert back to traditional research measures, Brabazon has banned the use of Wikipedia or Google as a research tool for her first year students.

“I call this type of education ‘the University of Google’. Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments,” Brabazon told the Times Online, adding that “Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content.”

Brabazon feels that teachers and professors need to better educate their students on how to use search engines and web properties as research tools, based upon the pillars of critical thinking, and not as an easy way to ‘copy and paste’ the answers of life.

How does she do this? The old fashioned way, by providing students with extracts from text reviewed by scholastic peers.

With search engines like Google and reaching out to Kindergarten thru High School librarians and teachers to use their services as research tools in the classroom, the blame can be as much placed on school superintendents as the search engines.

Sure, product placement of Google as the alternative to the Dewey Decimal System in the school is not as bad as Coca Cola machines replacing milk, as the use of search engines should compliment existing study and research habits; not replace them. In such respect, the responsibility falls on all parties involved.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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  • Oliver Taco

    Once Google does make all those scanned books public it might just replace the Dewey system….


  • Mike Mothner

    Although I feel like most university professors advise against the use of Wikipedia by students, Google Scholar is actually an incredible useful and reliable tool for finding scholarly articles for the particular search item. For example, if a student uses Google Scholar to search for a psychology related topic like schizophrenia the search results that come up are limited specifically too published journal articles or book chapters. Professors must not overlook this useful tool and even encourage its use by students searching for reliable sources of information.

  • Chris Gbekorbu

    If we look at the history of media, we see that new mediums are usually treated with disdain by those who are comfortable with the old media—the Greek orators were afraid that by adopting writing that people’s ability to remember information would be diminished and that people would become imbeciles (I exaggerate a little). And yes, while writing has degraded people’s ability to remember long orations (realistically, how many people can recite one of Sophocles’ works from memory?), writing has allowed us to do so much more (e.g., verify the accuracy of data, make information widely available and given us the ability to share knowledge across time and space…). Similarly, many were upset with the adoption of calculators in mathematics, claiming that people would forget how to do “simple” calculations and that they would become dependent on their tools to “think” for them. Yet calculators (and now computers) allow those with the fundamental mathematical knowledge to perform complex calculations that would take a considerably long time to perform using more “traditional” means (and help to ensure greater accuracy—how long would it have taken humans, unassisted by computers, to decode the Human Genome?) The examples are endless, and Google and Wikipedia are simply two new tools (like books and calculators) that allow us to process information. (Note I said PROCESS, not necessarily CREATE new information—that’s a whole other philosophical issue.) The tools, in and of themselves, are not responsible for the lack of quality thought—that’s a human issue, and one that is encountered regardless of the information medium (printed books with poor quality information aren’t much different from electronic media with poor quality information). And that’s one of the problems with Google and Wikipedia (another being using these resources as sole sources of information which could introduce bias into the information that people receive). The fact that users of these resources don’t always retrieve quality information speaks more to the skills and qualities of the user rather than the tool itself. It’s the garbage-in, garbage-out (GIGO) principle, and if users don’t know how to find quality information or how to create quality materials, then all they will be able to produce is poor quality information. Rather than simply lamenting the decline of print media’s dominance, we should be trying to find ways to leverage the new technologies to take full advantage of the new information environment in which we find ourselves—as evolution shows us, organisms that fail to adapt to their [changing] environment become extinct.

  • Rob

    500 idiots does not equal an expert.

    Therefore wikipedia will NEVER equal a refereed journal.

    The point it not that wikipedia is a bad thing.

    An expert in their field can use wikipedia and use their experience to seperate the good information from the rubbish.

    A first year student cannot.

    That is the point.

  • Matt

    While I don’t think wikipedia has the authority to be quoted as a reference in acamedic papers, there is no denying its a fantastic resource to educate others.

    As Jimmy Wales puts it, “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.”

    Its a great way to compliment other research, rather than replace it.

  • DrLidenbrock

    I don´t think it´s a good idea, she should teach students to find the right sources or “nutritional” ones rather than make them unskilled on search engines.

  • Emily Lloyd

    A comic strip on the subject:

  • Adams Ericksen

    “500 idiots does not equal an expert.

    Therefore wikipedia will NEVER equal a refereed journal.”

    I can’t even begin to disagree enough with these sort of elitist objections. I’m a professional scientist and educator with a MSE and a PhD (in different fields) and I can tell you that almost every lit search I do starts at wikipedia, continues through google scholar, and only as a last resort wades through academic search engines. Why? Because Wikipedia and Google Scholar are enormously reliable and convenient, and their academic competitors are not. A wikipedia article on a noncontroversial scientific phenomenon (i.e. not evolution or stem cell research, where the afore-mentioned 500 idiots do tend to have their say) is almost always comparable in quality to an undergraduate text. That’s not surprising, given that most of the answers are written by the same people who write said texts.
    Google scholar, by the way, accesses exactly the same refereed pubs that the academic versions do, but with much greater reliablity and speed, and a minimum of the obnoxious “link-to-an-incomplete-teaser-abstract-and-try-to-charge-me-30-bucks-for-full-access” shakedown sites. Plus, they list a lot of articles that are in Google’s free collection, which never show up in academic search engines.

    Frankly, the people who turn up their nose at these very useful tools tend, in my experience, to be either self-important snobs entranced by their own academic magnificence or closet luddites who long for the days of card catalogs and dusty stacks when knowledge was the province of the few, the old, and the bespectacled. Either way, I’m unimpressed with the attitude shown by Dr. Brabazon and other anti-internet research types. An expert is an expert, regardless of the number of letters after their name. Obviously you have to be careful of non-refereed sources, but how you get to them shouldn’t be at issue.

    And by the way, wikipedia has another advantage – in the traditional peer-review system, the (usually two or three) reviewers aren’t always that knowledgeable either. Frankly, I’ll take 500 reviewers with limited knowledge over 2 reviewers with marginally greater knowledge. Besides, wikipedia articles rarely pass the threshold of specific knowledge necessary to merit a citation – most of it is general knowledge, and anything specific or contentious is usually referenced in the text anyway.