“Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats
and vandalized nightly.” –Roger Ebert
Students today are faced with this veritable avalanche of information every time they do a google search. Sadly, quantity does not equal quality, and students are often so overwhelmed by the number of search results that they simply choose the first couple links and look no further. As a result, over the past several years I have come to realize that what I used to teach as research was a gathering of information. What I must teach now is the curation of information.
Last year in my Global Issues course (a one semester elective for upper classmen), I put students in charge of creating what would become our ‘text.’ The text evolved from a series of boards (similar to Pinterest) curated by groups of students on the global issues we had agreed upon. These included religious extremism, the future of food, and women’s issues. This proved to be a challenging exercise for all concerned.
There is so much information out there it is easy to fill up a list of resources. But curation is not simply gathering, it is choosing in order to create a meaningful collection and it is this tool that students will need as they pursue higher education and need to do research for both their future vocations and their avocations.
I gave students a list of criteria for their sources: several perspectives, multiple countries, visual and non-visual, primary and secondary, and they collected their information. They annotated each entry into their curated site explaining origin, bias, and general subject. This was a successful effort in that their research was focused and used only quality sources; it no longer seemed as if it were assembled piecemeal by pack rats. However, it still didn’t reach the level of something that appeared as if the students had both carefully selected and interpreted each source.
The next step was to help them explain their choices in such a way that a visitor to their site, like a visitor to any good museum exhibit, emerges from their reading with a larger understanding of the topic and some concluding understandings. Even high quality sources are only as good as the story that weaves them together. The final products were quality sites that presented carefully chosen and vetted information in a way that walked a visitor to the site through the issue and towards possible solutions.
Both I and my students learned that, unlike in the past, the research process is no longer simply about gathering information, summarizing it, and forming an opinion about it. The wealth of resources on the internet has changed that. Students now must learn how to select the best pieces of information and to assemble them so that they tell a meaningful story. They must become curators of their own information museum.