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From the Times of London:

From The Times January 14, 2008 White bread for young minds, says university professor Alexandra Frean, Education Editor

Google is “white bread for the mind”, and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week.

In her inaugural lecture at the University of Brighton, Tara Brabazon will urge teachers at all levels of the education system to equip students with the skills they need to interpret and sift through information gleaned from the internet.

She believes that easy access to information has dulled students’ sense of curiosity and is stifling debate. She claims that many undergraduates arrive at university unable to discriminate between anecdotal and unsubstantiated material posted on the internet.

“I call this type of education ‘the University of Google’.

“Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments.

“Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content,” she said.

Professor Brabazon, who has been teaching in universities for 18 years, said that the heavy reliance on the internet in universities had the effect of “flattening expertise” because every piece of information was given the same credibility by users.

Professor Brabazon’s concerns echo the author Andrew Keen’s criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: “To-day’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”

Professor Brabazon said: “I’ve taught all through the digitisation of education. It’s fascinating to see how students have changed. We can no longer assume that students arrive at university, knowing what to read and knowing what standards are required of the material that they do read.”

“Students live in an age of information, but what they lack is correct information. They turn to Wikipedia unquestioningly for information. Why wouldn’t they - it’s there,” she said.

Professor Brabazon does not blame schools for students’ cut-and-paste attitude to study. Nor is she critical of students individually.

With libraries in decline, diminishing stocks of books and fewer librarians, media platforms such as Google made perfect sense. The trick was to learn how to use them properly.

“We need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google,” she said.

Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work.

“I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both – not one or the other, not a cheap solution,” she said.

The have been concerns about students plagiarising from the internet and the growth of a new online “coursework industry”, in which web-sites produce tailor-made essays, some selling for up to £1,000 each.

Wikipedia, containing millions of articles contributed by users was founded in 2001. It has been criticised for being riddled with inaccuracies and nonsense. Even one of its own founders, Larry Sanger, described it as “broken beyond repair” before leaving the site last year.

Google is the dominant search engine on the internet. It uses a formula designed to place the most relevant content at the top of its listings. But a multimillion-pound industry has grown up around manipulating Google rankings through a process called “search engine optimisation”.

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Comments (1)

Peter Collopy on January 14, 2008 2:00 PM:

While Brabazon's basic attitude about the value of skepticism and learning how to interpret information makes a lot of sense to me, I think a lot of this has to be done through grappling with Google and Wikipedia, rather than setting them aside for later. The real information that we deal on a daily basis deserves questioning, as for that matter do the peer-reviewed texts Brabazon is handing out. Using the internet for education to the exclusion of traditional media is a mistake, but ignoring its existence doesn't seem all that much wiser to me.

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This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

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Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

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Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)


The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)


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Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)

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