Internet sources: to use or not to use… or to accept they’re here to stay

While going through all the educational newsletters and blog posts, I noticed something weird.  In K12 schools, students are encouraged to research things on the internet.  For example, an English teacher asks students to use the internet to research careers that they’re interested in. In college, teachers tell students not to use any internet sources, or to just use “reliable” sources on the internet.  But are we even teaching students how to tell what “reliable” sources are? Are we providing them with a list of good internet sources?

What is the source of this hesitation? In grad school, we’re taught to use peer-reviewed sources and we think about the authors’ credentials.  We say students should never cite Wikipedia, even though it can also be pretty reliable.  Why? It’s authors are anonymous and its articles can be of varying quality. But do we teach students about this or just insist they use academic books and peer reviewed articles?

There are inherent problems here:

  • Internet sources are not going away. We need to accept this and teach students how to evaluate these sources and articles. And how to find better sources (i.e. JSTOR, databases, how to search the library catalog).
  • Are we even considering why students are using these books and articles? Yes, students can access the internet far more conveniently than they can access journals or books in the library. Yes, some articles are online but they are often behind a paywall, or the most recent issues are not posted (cf. the open access debate). So students are probably using seemingly random Internet sources out of convenience (and because earlier teachers might have encouraged them to, especially if their school was a 1:1 technology school).
  • Academic prose can be confusing, even for other academics. For example, this paragraph summarizes the results of a numismatic debate regarding how easily we can determine how many coins were produced in antiquity.

No mint records survive from the Roman world. To estimate the size of any individual issue one must count the known dies used to produce the surviving coins, extrapolate the original number of dies, and multiply that number by the quantity of coins struck per die. To arrive at the total amount of coin in circulation at any given time it is necessary to perform this feat for every issue struck up to that time. A less accurate but more practical alternative is to extrapolate die estimates for the majority of issues from die studies of a few selected issues, using the relative frequency of issues in hoards as an index of their original relative sizes. After that an estimate of the amount of coinage struck but already lost from circulation before the time in question must be subtracted. Such loss could take place, for example, through simple loss or non-recovery of hoards, through the melting-down or restriking of old coin, through trade or other external payments, or through coin being carried away by enemies.

Howgego, C. 1992. “The Supply and Use of Money in the Roman World,
200 B.C. to A.D. 300,” JRS, pp. 1-31. (Quotation from p. 2)

It’s pretty clear for numismatists (and was written more clearly than most numismatic articles), but how understandable is it for you? Would it be understandable for your students?

We need to do better online outreach for our students and others’ students. Classics needs good articles or good YouTube videos to help our students do better online research.  They’re going to go there anyways, so why not help them out?

I won’t deny that there are good blogs and good articles out there, but they are not always clear or not always as good.  Here are some of the sources that I like that could be good for students:

What others are out there? What online sources/blogs can you make?


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