Monday, January 14, 2008

Google U?

Professor of Media Studies Tara Brabazon of the University of Brighton (England) is campaigning for information literacy. In her recent lecture "Google is White Bread for the Mind" she argues that

Wikipedia and user-generated content are creating an age of banality and mediocrity by providing consensual information and stifling debate. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google... [and] that universities must teach students to question, argue, debate and challenge, rather than accept the 'facts' from Wikipedia or the rankings of Google.

Of course I would agree. Teaching students to be critical thinkers is an important goal in our writing classes. She might object, therefore, that our Information Literacy Portfolio in first year composition should not send students to Wikipedia for their initial research. However, we believe that because students will go to Wikipedia anyway, that therefore it is imperative that we teach students what Wikipedia is and how to use it correctly (effectively, ethically).

According to the lecture announcement,
Brabazon argues that with the decline in libraries, diminishing stocks of books and fewer librarians, media platforms like Google offer easy answers to difficult problems. She wants to see a more subtle relationship between the analogue and the digital.

She says: "I want students to sit down and read. It's not the same when you read it online. I want them to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels – both are fine but I want them to have both – not one or the other - not a cheap solution."

Here, she gets into a deeper point - and I totally agree that students should have the print experience along with the digital. Both are essential. For example, the current political campaign is being carried out on blogs and internet and YouTube as much as in print. Voters who are only proficient in one medium or the other will miss important concepts.

Brabazon is also correct about the essential skill in interpretation. To her point of view,
the education resulting from this age of the amateur [could be called] 'the University of Google', composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments. She argues that: "we need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills."
I don't think we can wait.

Read more here.



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