Researching…

The incredible amount of access we now have to information has made it so that there are few true experts in the world.  One no longer has to go to college for 8 years to learn the most complex ideas from microbiology, engineering, or philosophy.  The Internet has answers to nearly every question.  In fact, some would argue that modern technology makes the classroom obsolete because students can teach themselves whatever information they are seeking.  This is precisely why we need to change the way we teach in response.

It is true that much (if not all) of the fact-based information students learn in classrooms could be found online without the assistance of a teacher.  Yet the sheer memorization of facts is not our primary goal as educators anymore.  Our goal is to build a community of learners who share and grow as we embark together on a journey to create meaning every day.  This undertaking most certainly requires a classroom filled with other learners who can help shape our learning as we collaborate and discuss.  We want to use technology effectively in this setting, not allow it to replace human connection and learning experiences.

The problem is that technology is so tempting to use for every circumstance because it is now so user-friendly and readily accessible.  Programs like Zotero save us precious time that we would spend searching through texts, referring back to our MLA handbook, trying to figure out where to put the colon in a citation.  With technology, we don’t even need to have a physical copy of the text we’re citing; Zotero can find the citation information through the Web.  Even without Zotero, there are so many people that post to the Internet now that it is not inconceivable that one could find a necessary citation on a blog or a book website.  While this makes our lives undoubtedly easier, questions arise about our dependency on technology and whether or not students are missing out on learning valuable research skills by allowing technology to do the work for them.  Others argue that these skills are not as important as the ideas students are working with, so if we can save them time by speeding along the research process, they will be able to focus on the truly important tasks.

Researching does teach students important skills.  When we research, we are practicing selecting important information and distinguishing it from unimportant information.  We also develop an understanding of reputable versus questionable sources to cite for evidence to ensure that our support is strong and credible.  Researching demands that we explore different types of media-videos, critical essays, biographies, film, etc-which develops our literacy in all those types of texts.  We can still develop all of those skills using technology; the danger comes when we reduce researching to performing a Google search and citing the first 10 websites that appear.  Teachers just need to ensure that they are showing their students how to distinguish between scholarly and popular sources.  There also need to be times when students put away the technology and look through books themselves.  As we weigh information to see whether or not it is credible and useful for our research topic, we can learn so much.  As teachers, we want to encourage literacy in all its forms.  In essence, we need to teach students how to use technology, but not to rely on it for every task.

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