The Internet puts the world’s knowledge at the ends of our rapidly twitching fingers, yet the academic research skills of “average” students are poorer today than when they “had to trek to a library, sift through periodicals, muddle through card catalogs, and blow off dust from stacks of books, just to access potential material for a term paper,” observes ed.org columnist Ron Isaac, who wonders “What has replaced this exhilarating drudgery?”
Too often a student will go online, key in, say, “Shakespeare,” double click, and then muster the energy for one more click so that their ready-made dissertation will be printing while they split to check out YouTube or to surf some video channel. At the next commercial break they will scoop up their term paper from the tray, sandwich it between colored covers, and adorn it with some “photoshop” work and computer graphics. They may also type a preface to the teacher along the lines of “I hope you like this. Have a nice day!” and add the finishing touch of an “emoticon” smiley-face.
He’s painting with a broad brush, obviously, but Isaac raises a legitimate point with his observation that “everyone professes a passionate belief in the importance of teaching students critical thinking, but generally it’s left at that. The ability to think critically is not a secondary sexual characteristic that happens involuntarily. Nor does it materialize from the study of a non-existent curriculum. It is, rather, the product of many years of literal note-taking ( sometimes a lonely endeavor) and reflection.”