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