Last week my cohort was getting into the thick of a really good conversation just when class ended. Week 3’s readings talked a lot about how social media has changed or can change the way we teach and Week 5’s readings focused on the ways in which it can change how we do our research. But what we haven’t really talked about is where teaching and research meet.
The readings last week focused a lot on how much more material we are able to access than we used to be able to, but my cohort was concerned that too much emphasis could easily be placed on quantity rather than quality and that, rather than aiding our research, more material would just mean more sites to sift through in order to determine their legitimacy.
This reminded me of the research presentation I ask Jack Bales, our References and Humanities librarian, to provide for my students. He emphasizes the need for students to vet their on-line sources and uses as an example, www.martinlutherking.org. The URL certainly seems legitimate, right? And it’s the third hit with a Google search. But you’ll be surprised to find that the site presents MLK as a communist philanderer and a plagiarist fraud. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll notice that the page is owned by something called “Stormfront” (https://www.stormfront.org/forum/) whose own page boasts “White Pride Worldwide”. In fact, the “white nationalist” online community was created in 1995 by former Ku Klux Klan Grand. Ahhh, and it all makes sense now. Where does the official MLK website, www.thekingcenter.org, fall in the google search? Sixth. Not bad but the name doesn’t seem as official.
I do attempt to teach the students about the differences in websites, but not in a programmatic way. Every semester, though, I recommend that they use the on-line version of Oxford’s Larousse dictionary rather than www.wordreference.com which they’re all familiar with. Why? Because wordreference is in reality a wiki site and thus the definitions are not as precise as the old standard Larousse. I explain that wordreference is great for me to use for odd colloquial expressions because I know enough to be able to distinguish the good translation suggestions from the bad. They, however, don’t have the knowledge to do so, so they’re better off with Larousse.
But I’ve been thinking that our concern should not simply be how to integrate new types of media into the classroom experience but rather to teach the students how to manage and evaluate all of the information that is at their fingertips. Won’t that serve them better in the long run?