Wary of the Web

Recent upgrades to the University’s technological resources make the Internet an increasingly useful research tool for GW students. But as more students cite Web sites as sources in term papers, instructors advise students to navigate the Internet’s vast supply of information with caution.

“I myself, as a graduate student, find very useful material on the Internet,” said Jennifer Saunders, a graduate teaching assistant. “You need to be more careful about relying on something you find while surfing as credible, as opposed to a journal article or textbook for example.”

Professors suggest some fields, such as communications and the arts, lend themselves more to Internet research than others.

“I do not advise students to use the Internet,” said Marshall Alcorn, an associate professor of English. “Academic articles are not in great supply on the Internet for English literature. Our profession has a set of journals that have largely defined the research procedure for our profession.”

But Alcorn said he feels the Internet has enhanced the learning process in certain ways.

“It does not offer depth, but it offers real expansiveness,” he said. “Pictures and search options allow students to follow their particular interests.”

Bradley Sabelli, a GW theater professor, said the Internet allows his students to delve into specific topics in their field.

“In the past couple of years, many students have used the Internet to research different architecture styles and costume ideas,” Sabelli said. “This has significantly helped students.”

Students can formulate personal ideas from the Internet’s visual images, Sabelli said.

The theatre and dance department attempts to promote Internet research by providing links to other Web pages, such as the Kennedy Center’s site, which provide students fodder to cultivate ideas for their own work.

Students in the School of Media and Public Affairs said they also find the Internet a useful research tool.

“I see students use it on a daily, if not hourly, basis,” said Lonnie Giamela, a journalism major and the Student Association’s vice president for academic affairs.

Professors said, however, the Internet should supplement traditional means of research such as books and bound resource materials.

“The Internet should at most be an adjunct to the main information-gathering,” said political science professor Lee Sigelman. “Gathering information via the Internet before doing one’s interviews, attending meetings and so on is excellent.”

“I advise against solely Internet-based research,” Saunders said. “I stress to my students to be aware that not all the material they find is credible or valuable.”

Debbie Bezanson, a Gelman Library reference librarian, said she believes students only can benefit from the Internet if they use its resources correctly.

Bezanson said the library provides two main access points to the World Wide Web – ALADIN and the Gelman Library home page. The library’s home page hosts its catalog and more than 100 databases.

But the Internet research options that are offered by the library differ from traditional Internet research options, she said.

“Our Internet research options allow students to search credible research journals and other scholarly works, many of which are not available on the search engines which are traditionally used,” Bezanson said.

Bezanson said Web sites for The Washington Post or Time magazine provide trustworthy information, but search engines such as Yahoo may turn up articles that are not necessarily as credible.

“I guess it’s a mixed bag,” Saunders said. “In particular, I think that doing research on the Internet is appropriate in some instances and probably not the best research method in others. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all research tool, and students should be careful not to treat it that way.”

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