The University Of Google Needs Better TAs

from the If-Obscurity-Is-Good-Enough-For-Security,-It's-Good-Enough-For-Education dept

Professor Tara Brabazon, a lecturer at the University of Brighton, is fed up with shoddy student research papers and has dubbed the rampant mis-use of Google results as “The University of Google” — condemning the practice of simply taking the first few search engine results and compiling them for homework assignments. While we’ve seen several cases of schools banning the use of Wikipedia, Brabazon even goes so far as to forbid students from using Google as well as other online resources. While the criticism that lazy students are relying too much on search engines is probably valid at many universities, the solution to ban the use of search engine tools and online references seems like an unjust punishment, as well as a disservice to the students who will likely need to use search engines after they graduate. Brabazon points out that students don’t attend universities to learn how to use Google, but that doesn’t mean the use of websites like Wikipedia and Google should be ignored. If anything, there should be a crash course on what Google is (and is not) useful for — analogous to the math teacher’s favorite little guide “Lies My Calculator Told Me” which details the pitfalls of blindly using a calculator. Students should be taught using all the available tools that can help them further their education, along with how to use those tools effectively. On Google’s side, however, perhaps the search engine giant should create a knol that describes how to write a respectable research report using Google — without getting caught.

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Comments on “The University Of Google Needs Better TAs”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not Google's Fault....

As times change and access to information improves, writing a research paper will become easier. Teachers should evolve their strategy from assignments that are simply information regurgitation, to forming original thoughts and/or arguments and backing them up with facts. Make people think for themselves.

Of course this would mean that teachers would actually need to read and evaluate the homework. You get out what you put in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not Google's Fault....

I agree with you 100%, teachers strategies should be evolving with tech.

Case in point: I have a friend that is in his second year of teaching high school english. He was outlining some of the things he’s making his students do as opposed to the boring old research paper. In one assignment he has the students creating a podcast about an assigned chapter from ‘to kill a mockingbird,’ Another assignment from the same book had them blogging about certain aspects of the story.

So, maybe all of you old teachers should be trying to learn some new tricks, instead of bitching about technology’s role in the downfall of your students.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

understanding, kinda

I can kind of understand where she’s coming from. As a student you should be taught how to do it correctly before doing it the easy way. Just like in elementary school, we were now allowed to use a calculator. We had to learn how to do it correctly on paper before we were allowed to follow the tech.

This should not be something that a college should have to worry about. Those students should already know how to properly wright up a paper. If they can’t than it’s not Google’s fault but the fault of the student.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re:2 understanding, kinda

We are getting a little off topic but I’ll still add this.

This is a blog. Spelling isn’t graded here. When I was in school, and even at work now, I went threw all the steps to make sure everything was correct. Checked my sources, both online and off, had someone proofread it for spelling and grammar. I don’t do that here because it’s a lot less formal. I just run it threw Google’s spell check in the Google tool bar.

TheDock22 says:

So what?

I have had plenty of professors in college tell me I was not allowed to use online resources. So what? Quit whining and just do what your professor wants you to do. It is good training for life when you have a career and a boss. You don’t always get to do things the way you want to do them.

Can’t use Google? Last time I checked, colleges have these wonderful things called libraries filled with all sorts of books and magazines. Make and effort and use it.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: So what?

I know I just posted but I had to respond to this one.

Never blindly follow anyone in power. Always question those giving the orders.

When was the last time your boss said “I need that report by Monday, and you can’t use Google”?

The Internet is a vary large and somewhat disorganised library. They invented Google as a large, fast card catalog. Blindly following it is a sign of a lazy student.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: So what?

When was the last time your boss said “I need that report by Monday, and you can’t use Google”?

Well, I have never had to compile a report that I could just Google for the information (mostly internal company documents pertaining to our infrastructure and budget). If I could though I probably would use Google because it would save time.

College is suppose to be about hard work and dedication to earn your credentials and weed out the people who can’t cut it though. So one professor saying you can not use Google does not seem like an extraordinary request. Do the work!

Inquisition (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So what?

I can’t believe what I just read!
“College is suppose to be about hard work and dedication to earn your credentials and weed out the people who can’t cut it though.”
Excuse me, but When I went to college, it was about LEARNING. That remark is the snottiest, most elitist thing I have heard in quite some time.

Now about the use of the internet. It is a vast resource that should be used wisely. I agree that no one should cite Wikipedia in a research paper. Wiki is not information compiled by people that are experts in their field, or paid researchers. Only the actual source should be cited.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So what?

I have to agree with Inquisition on this. The comment “College is suppose to be about hard work and dedication to earn your credentials and weed out the people who can’t cut it though.”, is rediculous. Assumeing that the Dock went to college, I don’t think you got out of it what was intended.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So what?

Excuse me, but When I went to college, it was about LEARNING. That remark is the snottiest, most elitist thing I have heard in quite some time.

College is suppose to give you a feeling of accomplishment. I would have hated graduating with someone who got their degree without setting foot inside a library. I put in the time to research, they should to. I am not saying I never used the Internet to research, but I always backed up what I found online by citing published papers.

Now about the use of the internet. It is a vast resource that should be used wisely. I agree that no one should cite Wikipedia in a research paper. Wiki is not information compiled by people that are experts in their field, or paid researchers. Only the actual source should be cited.

We are now getting into semantics of Google vs. Wikipedia. You can not always verify the authors and sources from information you find on a couple Google sites that are near the top, which happens to be what these students were doing.

If you really feel people should get their degree for researching 100% online and using the first couple Google hits as their only resources than that is fine. I just personally feel that people should at least try checking out published sources to verify the facts they find online are accurate.

Inquisition (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So what?

If you didn’t read my entire post, I said that the original source (read published works) should be cited.
And I’m sorry, but just about everything that is published for research is probably somewhere on the internet. I agree that no student should trust Google to do their research. PageRank is not always the best way to identify the most accurate information for researchers. I do, however believe that the Internet will have tons more information than any one library. Consider Google as access to every library.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re:4 So what?

If you didn’t read my entire post, I said that the original source (read published works) should be cited.

You were talking about Wikipedia though, not Google but the idea is the same. I read the article from this teacher and her argument makes sense that Google is making students lazy. Maybe she should force them to cite most of their researched from published works, but a few online resources would be fine.

At the same time though, what is wrong with students doing what the professors want them to do? I still do not understand when the mentality changed from “do anything the professor wants to get the grade” (anything legal and moral that is) to “I pay, therefore I should be able to do what I want.”

Adam says:

My old professor

When I was an undergrad, I had a nuclear engineering professor that used to create her homeworks by Googling for similar homeworks from other universities instead of writing the questions herself. Of course, all the students knew this which made it easy to find the solutions off of the same homeworks she copied the questions from.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't blame google, blame students/teachers/curric

I work for an E-peer review and E-Publishing company, and have a research based educational history.

Everyone I ever talked to about preparing an article/research paper/dissertation in the last 10 years uses online journals/google scholar/etc. to research citations and/or find primary sources.

The problem is that students don’t know how to determine how reliable an online source is, and Teachers/Curriculum don’t cover or stress enough the importance of this (I really hate to blame teachers at all, but I can’t put it all on curriculum either).

A source from PubMed, PLoS, Nature, PNAS, LexusNexus, BioOne, or a reputable independent journal should be a rock solid source depending on how it was received after it was published and a few other uncommon instances that could alter its credibility.

Often access to searchable databases such as those are provided to students by the university for free (You may have to actually go to the library/or be attached to the ‘on campus’ network to get access, but that is still a hell of a lot easier than having to reference microfiche or find a book…) Although more and more Universities are finding way s to provide off-campus access to these resources to their students.

A reference from should (and probably will) get you an automatic F, but perhaps that was a rather extreme example of scholastic negligence. But a reference from a geocities, msn or yahoo URL is also almost automatically not sufficient and you should lose % for lack of credible sources.


But I really see no reason to blame google at all, I have dealt with dozens of professors who explain nothing and expect you go be able to provide a polished research paper based on nothing more than a topic, and often they have weird preferences about formatting, citation style, writing style, etc. So generally to professors I say “Student’s are not psychics, EXPLAIN WTF YOU WANT OUT OF A PAPER”



Anonymous Coward says:

How is this different than what we used to do? Especially in primary and secondary school.

When we had a research paper, we went to the library, dug out a few reference books and used those as our research sources.

You’d word smith it and submit it.

The goal is to expose the kids to the information and see if they are able to construct a cohesive document.

Students turning in shoddy papers should receive shoddy grades.

Blame the tool and tool maker for people’s lack of skill with them? Sounds like some education person is 1) frustrated and 2) being mis-represented.

Haywood says:

So, the purpose of a college education.....

Is to learn to do everything the hard way? I’ll be glad if I ever am stranded on a desert island that I learned to do algebra on paper with out a calculator or even a slide rule. Lacking that I’ll do it the easy way; on a computer. The same is true for research, The library is becoming irrelevant, no matter how much the purists want it not to be true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So, the purpose of a college education.....

Many of the reliable online resources discussed here are available through some sort of library or another. Libraries are not becoming irrelevant – for the most part, they’re changing, staying relevant. It’s up to students to know that, and to use a reliable database to search for information. Google scholar is pretty good, but many of the articles can only be accessed with membership to a library that pays for database access.

David Moisan (user link) says:

Re: Hard work for its own sake?!

I didn’t graduate from college 20 years ago believing that hard work should be done for its own sake.

I remember too well, the pre-Internet reference library. Remember those? I’m not talking about a modern library with computer terminals, Lexis and a search dialog. The library I used in the day had search engines. Of a sort.

These were bound by the dozens with titles like “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature”. I can’t even remember the ones I used for computer science except for the time I went down to Boston University (not my school) and spent the day all over the stacks in dozens of directories in tiny print, finding absolutely no hook for further research on my assignments.

It’s not about hard work. It’s about reasoning and *results* and the quality of the essay, paper, research assignment or thesis.

I’ll be dipped in s–t before I go back to those days. Besides, I don’t know how the professor is supposed to do anything about it if you don’t cite Google. (And what if you *are* doing a paper on social networks? Don’t cite a MySpace page?)

Xeno says:

Colleges need to get with the times

For many years schools have constantly tried to stop students from utilizing the tools around them to make their lives easier. At the college level, for the most part, shouldn’t all the foundations of what goes into an adult education already be there. once you have the foundation, it is time to begin to utilize the other tools around you to make your life easier.

I just don’t see what the problem is with become faster and more productive. So a paper that took that teacher a whole semester to write takes students now a days 1 month to write. I don’t see that as a problem, I see that as progress

If Google was used to sort through every book in the schools library to find the most relevant ones for the subject at hand, would the teacher ban it there too?

Simon (profile) says:

Students should use the appropriate source - which

I’m an academic reference librarian, and I point students towards Google on occasion – because sometimes what they need will be found online (I’m thinking conference papers, especially). If you’re looking for government information, that will often be online (and sometimes hard to get in print).

Students should be taught to use appropriate sources, and to evaluate the information that they find. In some cases the best source is a book in the library. In some cases it is a library database. In some cases it is sources found via Google Scholar (which is improving a lot, though I still don’t think it’s as good as a subscription database). In some cases the best source will be found through Google (or Yahoo! or Ask). It’s unlikely that Wikipedia will be the best source for anything, but the better WP articles will give you an overview of the topic, maybe links to primary sources, maybe keywords to use in searches or the names of key researchers.

Telling students not to use a particular source is silly. Encouraging them to think about the best sources, and giving low grades to students who fail to do so, seems more productive to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Partial Apology to the board (not to Inquisition)

Sorry, after seeing people get A’s on papers in 400 level ecology research classes that contain major references to a Green Peace website (that was not even the official GP site), and a PeTA website. While (in another class) I personally have been docked points on a paper because I used a reference to a BioOne manuscript the professor claimed was “too speculative” when I was not in fact citing it in order to prove anything, only to illustrate that alternative statistical models were being developed that may eventually supersede the model I was evaluating for use in experementation…

Anyway, in my personal experience the vast majority of this issue comes from the fact that some professors will let you cite something that was written on your passed out roommate’s forehead last weekend, while others won’t accept certain references to preeminent scholarly publications for ephemeral reasons not really understood by anyone other then themselves.

So I really feel that the majority of this issue is the fact that there are no well understood standards for references taught anywhere in education until you get to the highest levels where at that point standards become essentially irrelevant because your case for anything has to be air-tight or people will rip you a new one…

99 cents

TW Burger (profile) says:

The problem is with the teachers and the students

I was a student and then a college instructor before the Internet existed and currently write research papers and technical articles for a living. A large part of my research is done using Google, Wikipedia, and other Web sources. However, what I find using Google and Wikipedia is used as a basis for further research or to find new ideas regarding the subject of study. Any references to the source of facts or opinions are always published works of known authorities on the subject if possible, and always with two or more other supporting sources which, again, are published works of known authorities if possible.

The problem is both with the students and the instructors, not the Internet. Most instructors do not teach students how to do research and how to validate references. They too wish to use minimal effort and simply complain about shoddy research. The students doing shoddy research either know no better or simply wish to pass with minimal effort.

If instructors put in some effort to explain the research that is expected and how to do it and the students really wish to learn and not simply pass, there can be no problem with any of the tools that are used.

Most of the problem seems to be with the mentality of instructors of limited knowledge, ability, and enthusiasm from a generation that had to do research in libraries and only had books as reference materials.

I would like to remind them that books contain garbage and lies just as the Internet does: In grade school I confronted the teacher with a biology text book we were issued that stated that the picture on the opposite page was a buffalo. It was, as I pointed out, an American bison, the buffalo was an Asian ruminant. My teacher looked at me in a manner I would only have expected if I had just declared myself the lizard king of Mars.

The problem is, as it was for me in grade 4, ignorant teachers, many sources of bad information, and students who have no passion to learn and would be better off in trade school, not the Internet.

Professor Tara Brabazon of the University of Brighton should endeavor to teach rather than complain, incorporate instruction on research methodology into her curriculum, and embrace and gain control of the Information Age rather than appearing as an elderly eccentric fearful of a technology advances.

As for the students that continue to cut and paste from Google rather than attempting to learn, simply fail them as I did when the book based research was sloppy.

another mike says:


i was taught technical writing with the MLS Style Guide (ask for it at your local bookstore). it has an entire chapter on bibliographical citations. MLS has shown how to cite webpages for the last decade at least. in case you’re wondering, wikipedia gets cited as a webpage, not an encyclopedia.
teachers used to have the power to fail students (the precious snowflakes’ self-esteem be damned) for poorly researched papers with insufficient sources.

mb says:

Academia vs academic freedom vs social engineering

“It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts…it is to teach them to think.”
– Robert M. Hutchins

As we emerge straightway from an Industrial Era to an Information Age, some of my colleagues in education will continue to lend themselves to a non-progressive model. The ease of access to information is at our finger tips, the true searcher will be able to assess, analyze, process, and creatively share the ideas, truths and theories they discover. Citations are often mis-attributed, I mean the internet might have been tagged the Gore-net if the philosophy of correctly citing sources was completely valid. Too many of my colleagues still champion the quote en quote ‘tied and true’ while forcibly resisting change. It’s not the fault of search engine algorithms as they merely index information. Fault lies with the person doing the research who neglects to isolate the truth behind their source. Hold those person(s) perpetuating bad information accountable for their errors and use it as a teaching moment to ensure a better portrayal of reality during the next iteration.
To me it’s a reflection more on the degredation of quality and the pursuit of knowledge. Humanity often sacrifices true quality in an effort to save time (a commodity that is defined by skewed perspectives). If research is to be done, varied mediums should be used not just 1 medium to further enhance one’s research. But what do I know, I’m just a young administrator inside the aged system of higher education.

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