Internet: Part 1 – Please define?

Okay, what do teachers mean when they add the statement “students may only use three Internet sources” in their research assignments?  How do you define “Internet” resources?  This question was posed on our SCASL Ning as to whether or not subscription databases (such as the ones found on our state’s DISCUS Virtual Library and others such as EBSCOhost, FactsOnFile, etc.) are “Internet” resources.  It was further explored in a post by my friend Cathy Nelson over at her blog.  (Please read her post then come back here)

Here was my response on the SCASL forum:

“In my opinion, electronic databases should NOT count as Internet resources. Yes, you access them through the Internet (the delivery method), but someone has to pay to access them – hence the name subscription database. In addition, these resources have already been “evaluated” in some form. When teachers refer to the Internet, they are mostly referring to the WWW and/or free web = sites that any john doe can create. Like you said above, electronic databases collect materials that were originally in print – magazines, journals, pamphlets, brochures, reference books, etc. as well as web resources that have been evaluated and approved to be of some authority. My teachers will allow students to use as many references from DISCUS/subscription databases as they can find, but limit the number of free websites/sources.”

But some would argue that you have to pay an Internet Service Provider in order to have access to the Internet.  True, but your ISP isn’t saying that everything you can access through them has been authorized or evaluated as authoritative sources.  I can tell you that I’m pretty sure Gale’s InfoTrac isn’t going to have an article taken from Mrs. Smith’s 5th grade science class webpage and have it indexed in it’s database.  But it will have an article from Scientific American, which was originally posted as a print magazine, which in turn meant that it had to go through some authentication process before it was ever printed.**

Which also brings up the fact that subscription databases contain information that if found on your physical library shelves would be considered PRINT sources.  You wouldn’t tell a student you can’t use that reference book article because you’ve already got three print sources.  Why would you tell the student he/she can’t use the reference article from DISCUS just because he accessed it via the Internet and he already has three WWW/free web sources?  Remember, most subscription databases contain information that was originally published in print (magazines, journals, newspapers, reference books, pamphlets, brochures, etc.)

Bottom line, the Internet is a delivery method.  The Internet IS NOT A SOURCE! Sally student wouldn’t list AT&T as a source, but instead she would cite the telephone interview she conducted with Oncologist Dr. Smith for her cancer research project.  Johnny student wouldn’t list Time Warner Cable as a source, but instead A&E Biography (the specific show) for information he used in his biographical essay on Albert Einstein.

I believe that the real reason teachers put a limit on “Internet” resources is that they want students to use a variety of sources and not just “Google It.”  However, teachers need to be more specific when they write their assignment guidelines.  Instead of saying only three Internet sources, they need to specify only three free web sources.  As Cathy pointed out in her blog, and what I do for my teachers and students, is explain the differences between the free web and subscription databases.   I remind them that they can use as many subscription database/DISCUS articles as they want.

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** Note: I do remind students that articles in subscription databases must still be evaulated, less for “authority” and more for bias, relevance, and timeliness.

3 thoughts on “Internet: Part 1 – Please define?

  1. I totally agree with you, Heather. When I do collaborative planning with my teachers, we talk about required information sources—that is a great opportunity to make sure they understand the difference between an Internet source and database source. We also use that time to discuss how we define a “book” (we include print and digital” and which databases we will focus on with the students in the research pathfinder.

    Secondly, our extensive use of NoodleTools has been a wonderful educational tools for students and teachers in understanding that database resources, while accessed via the World Wide Web, in and of themselves are NOT Internet sources. The NoodleBib wizard forces you to really think about the types of information sources you are using—that tool has helped us make great progress in differentiating between the two. I am extremely fortunate our district provides us access to NoodleTools!

  2. With my English classes, I spend days going over print, DISCUS/subscription databases, and Web Evaluation. However, with other classes, I typically don’t get that teaching time. With the other subjects, I do good to be able to show the students which databases to use – but they still “Google It!” I also feel that even though my students will say they can’t trust everything they find on the web, they’ll still use unreliable and/or incorrect information in their research because they wont truly evaluate the source.

    As for citing sources, we can’t afford to purchase a service. I show the students free ones, like easybib, but I doubt that many actually use them. I have fill in the blank forms that another school let me copy and some students will use them. I will say that one great thing about databases, and that the students love, is that the article provides the citation for them – this can sometimes be a great selling point for the databases!

  3. I think the evaluation skills are something we do have to constantly reinforce. It is slow going, but we are getting more non-English teachers on board in reinforcing the expectations for info evaluation that the English teachers have for students.

    I feel extremely humbled and lucky our district purchases NoodleTools for every school in our district. I hope that when the economy improves, more districts will be able to do the same.

    I am enjoying your series of blog posts—great work!

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