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January 14, 2008


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Dave Briggs

I'm in two minds really about this, Phil. I mean, who at graduate level is using Wikipedia as a serious research tool? When I was at Uni I would never have dreamt of using an encyclopedia!

As for Google, well, it's just a tool. Maybe more time should be spent teaching people how to use it effectively.

Phil Bradley

Dave - I agree with you 100%. I've never been a fan of the Wikipedia, but I'll grant it can sometimes be a useful starting off point, but that's about its limits. However, if she wants students to get to grips with analysis, they're not going to be able to do that if they're not allowed to use the thing!

Moreover, she's not encouraging them to think, she's just replacing one resource (G & W) with another (her reading list).

AJ Cann

Ah, prohibition. Remember how successful it was last time? ;-)


The using it effectively bit is key. Even as a graduate I would use encyclopedias as places to start, a tool for orienatting myself and getting pointers to in depth material. Merely banning these tools/sources is no help.

And Phil is right, replacing them with another (seemingly closed) list of resources is just as bad in the analytical thinking stakes. She may well say that the reading list is a place to begin, I don't know.


Phil, it looks as though The Times has picked this up; it was the lead story today. Their website is down at the moment but I'm sure in the paper this morning I saw requests for readers' views. The line that made me smile - 'Google is "white bread for the mind".' Link copied below (as Times has just returned.)


Well at least this prof. managed to increase her Google-factor. From Wikipedia via Google: "Currently gained widespread notoriety for banning Google and Wikipedia from her courses." I wonder when that will make it into a book?

As an aside: a lecturer at our university told a student that stuff off the internet should not be used in connection with academic work. Consequently, the student blankly refused to use electronic journals, and requested that we order paper copies from other libraries. Funny old world.

Fiona Morgan

Currently I'm in the process of running a series of group discussions with academics about improving information literacy among university students (ie the ability to recognise when information is needed and to locate, evaluate and use that information effectively). When asked to describe elements of a poor piece of work, many respondents identified reliance on Wikipedia for the answer and cutting and pasting information found via a brief Google search among those elements. I suspect the point Prof Brabazon is trying to make - albeit somewhat provocatively - is about the quality of student work and the need to improve study skills. A high quality essay requires extensive reading and critical thought. Using Wikipedia or a Google-identified website as the sole source for a piece of work is not a recipe for high quality. By the way, this debate about skills is widespread. Just check out the cover story from the current Times Higher Education which highlights “a widespread failure on the part of secondary education in the UK to produce young people with the knowledge and skills required for university”. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=400071&c=2

Phil Bradley

Fiona - I agree 100% that students need to learn/improve study skills, and to appreciate the importance of accurate reference work and research. They are NOT going to be able to do this if they're banned from using some resources. They are NOT going to be able to do it if limited to some sort of reading list.

Brabazon would have, IMO, been better to have critised an education system that does not encourage students to learn this at an early age. That would not of course have made such a good story, or got her the headlines that she's after. But then I suppose that a Professor of Media Studies would be well versed in manipulating the media for her own self aggrandizement.

Peter Godwin

I am surprised and dismayed by Tara Brabazon's action. As a Professor of Media and author of the recent book "The University of Google" I would have expected better. The point is surely that students who just depend on Google and Wikipedia are indeed short-changing themselves and will not come up with Highher Educatiuon level material. However, to try to stop them from using these as a starting point is quite wrong as so much valuable material is available. The challenge is to get them to be able to search Google effectively and choose appropriate sources. The power of Wikipedia for making connections and exploring material is immense.It is how students are then motivated and encourasged to move onto other sources which is critical. These are key challenges for Information Literacy librarians. Together with academic staff using carefully constructed assignments and assessment which require use of appropriate scholarly material, I believe we can assist student learning to be achieved. Beyond this I think Phil has said it all!

Sheila Webber/ Sheila Yoshikawa

I was just blogging about this .... on the one hand it's good to have information literacy in the news, and also you can't tell the extent to which they are exaggerating to get a nice headline, but I agree with Phil and Peter about it being a better idea to educate students to use the tools than just ban them. Sooner they get to know how to use Google effectively the better, and Wikipedia does have some very good stuff in it. At level one (and especially for multidisciplinary courses when students are encountering many new areas) using an encyclopedia can be a useful strategy as a starting point. I suppose "Professor advises students that sometimes Wikipedia is useful and sometimes it isn't" isn't very newsworthy, though.

Emily Lloyd

A response to Brabazon in comic strip form: http://shelfcheck.blogspot.com/2008/01/shelf-check-178.html


Living in Brighton, I actually went to Prof Brabazon's inaugural lecture last night, and came away impressed and encouraged. The banning of Google & wikipedia is obviously meant to be provocative, and make students think. The point she made was that Google & wikipedia have become the first and only points of reference for research - causing a flattening of opinion. By taking out the 'easy' option, she's forcing students to look in lots of different places and come up with a range of different ideas. She was probably getting tired with marking the same essay 30 times over. The ban is only in place for the first year of a course, not the whole.

As I've said in my post on my blog (plug), libraries need to respond by making their services as accessible as Google, and academic depts need to commit to raising student info literacy skills. Hopefully the report due out today from Dr Rowlands of UCL will underline the importance of this.

Erik Høy

I think that Pandia Post got a nice link to a report that shows the failure of the Google-generation to use the search engines good enough for university use.
In some way, the professor is right, in the sense, that the way the students use the internet, it's bad for science.
I would however have preferred her then to spend some time teaching them to use the internet search engines better, and find the right sources.
When we commented the report on the Danish Bib-log weblog, we had the some reactions supporting the professor.

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