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Internet Usage In Research

Internet Usage in Research

by Kerry Gilliard
February 2, 2008
Grand Canyon University
EDU 550

Internet Usage in Research and the Classroom
As technology has grown and developed, many individuals including myself have began to turn more to the internet as an additional source of information in the course of research. The advantages to this have been plentiful.tFirst, research on the internet is not limited by the amount of hours a physical library is open, so as a researcher, I have been able to gather information at various hours according to a time convenient to me. Many professional journals have become available online, and while access to some of them may require a fee, many articles germane to my subject area are available free. In addition, the sheer variety of references available on the internet can, in some cases, dwarf what a particular library may have on hand regarding the subject.
To be sure, many the internet presents its’ fair share of disadvantages as well. The number one problem is always finding a way to wade through the deluge of links that appear during a keyword search on a subject in any search engine. The process of transitioning all formats of media to digital is still “uncertain and incomplete” according to two authors in the business of transitioning media from physical to digital format (Oestreicher-Singer & Sundarajan, 2005). Thus, many older resources and some current resources are not available in digital format for access through the internet either because of copyright issues, licensing issues, or lack of ability to immediately make the resource available over the internet. This can, in some cases, limit the amount of legitimate resources available to a student or researcher, despite there being thousands of links available on the internet on a particular subject. The issue of verified and trustworthy material is also an issue as sites such as Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.org ) and similar ‘wiki’ sites may have legitimate information on a particular subject, but may also have spurious information, as these sites allow anyone to edit the articles contained therein.
In this paper, I will discuss three primary ways that I have used the internet for  research purposes and give specific examples. I will also discuss the concepts necessary for discerning reputable websites and accurate information versus non-verifiable websites and inaccurate sources of information. The paper will conclude by addressing the use of the internet in the classroom by students in the course of them completing research.
The Internet as Biographical Resource
The internet has a plethora of biographical information on various individuals across a myriad of professions. As a musician, my primary concern has been on finding complete or semi-complete information on the early lives and careers of musicians from various eras. Entries for older classical musicians such as Bach, Beethoven and others tend to be very accurate on most sites such as Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.org ), Classical Music Archives (http://www.classicalarchives.com) and also HyperMusic (http://www.hypermusic.ca). A general rule I have found to be true in this endeavor is that information on some individuals closer to the current era of music (such as Billie Holiday) may be inaccurate. Indeed, Holiday’s own autobiography states that her parents were married when independent researchers and reporters (such as Hamlin, 2006)  have pointed out that they were not. Another major issue in the process of researching via the internet is that many sites simply duplicate information they have received from other websites.  . In the interest of time, it may become very tedious to sort through some thirty or forty links per page of information on a topic only to find minor differences even the wording of the information presented. Extended experience with researching through the internet has allowed me to grow as a researcher in finding solid resources in a more timely fashion than in the past, so I can say that my experience in this area of internet usage is usually positive.
The Internet Message Board: Surveys, Discussions and Research
Many message boards geared toward musicians and band directors have proven helpful to me in finding out how other school systems operate and how other directors run their programs. Sites like Bandlink (http://www.bandlink.org) and The Fifth Quarter (http://the5thquarter.com) have sections dedicated specifically to discussion of music and music-related topics for teachers. These message boards have the option for members to start up unscientific polls/surveys in order to gather general information as well as to start up discussion topics that board members can discuss in detail beyond selecting a simple response selection in a poll. The effectiveness and reliability of the poll’s results will depend primarily on the follow up questions asked by the person starting the poll, the depth of answer needed (simple yes or no questions) and the sample size (enough people must participate). While results can vary and in some cases, questions must be refined to gather precise information, the message board can be a good tool for interaction with colleagues in other areas of the country/world that may be able to point a researcher to other professional resources for use in the course of research. Collaboration among colleagues in other localities is greatly enhanced by the use of the internet.
The Internet as Virtual Library
Many websites such as  Google™ are in the process of digitizing printed materials. Google’s book website Google Books (http://books.google.com) the Digital Book Index (http://www.digitalbookindex.org) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books page (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu) have made thousands of books available online for use by students, faculty, researchers and the general public. Google is currently specializing in many out of print books. All of these things, in addition to professional journals such as the MENC’s the Journal of Music Teacher Education or the American Psychological Associations’ Developmental Psychology, are made available to members of their respective organizations for research and educational purposes. Some articles from education-related publications such as Education Week (http://www.edweek.org) are available for free. The ability to work at any hour of the morning or evening without the need to be present in a physical library has been a great benefit to me in the course of research and learning over the years.
Discerning Fact from Fiction
With all of these resources available for the researcher on the internet, the next major question (which I touched on earlier) still remains: By what process do we discern reliable web-based information from the unreliable? The answer to that question depends on the type of information one is looking for. Over the years, I have developed a few general guidelines that aid the process of research on the internet for me.
1. As a general rule, websites of personal individuals and hobbyists are usually not the most accurate places to seek reliable web-based information. There are definitely exceptions to this rule. For example, if Dr. William P. Foster (Director of Bands, Emeritus, Florida A&M University) had a personal site up, because of his reputation, decades of experience (50+ years), accomplishments and qualifications in the field of music, I would not hesitate to quote him as a verified and accurate authority.
2. Check the qualifications of the individual writing the article if it appears on a personal or non-educational website. Educational background and school credentials can say a lot about a persons’ qualifications in many cases.
3. Professional organization  and educational institution websites usually provide the most reliable sources of information. If you’re a musician, you head to MENC’s website, for example.
4. When possible, check references immediately. This applies especially to articles from user-edited sites such as Wikipedia. In many cases, individuals writing articles are truly seeking to provide accurate information and will provide references to journals, articles and other information used to compile the article.
5. Compare the information against verified sources that you are already familiar with. As a music major in college, I purchased many texts which dealt with my subject area and retain them to this day to check against things I find on the internet.
6. Discussion among colleagues can also provide verification of information found on the internet. At times, some of the information found on the internet may be discussed among colleagues and a researcher may find that another educator in their field has heard of the reference or information and can give me a proper resource to quote from in regard to it.
7. Collaborative websites organized by several professionals in a given field can also be a reliable source of information. Multiple authorship and review among peers reduces the opportunity for error and inaccuracy to creep into the process of presenting information and resources.
8. While there is no such thing as ‘neutral’ in writing and presenting information, I seek out and weigh information within the perspective that it is written, paying close attention to the motivations (or seeming motivations) behind the information that was written. For example, when discussing the reasons for the puritans rejected the use of instruments in worship, I keep their theological presuppositions in mind as well as the cultural milieu and what they were specifically writing against so that I can better understand their position. Though their exegesis of certain texts of scripture in relation to musical instruments may be correct, it may be guided more by the culture of their day than consistent biblical exegesis.
Much of the process I use is similar to that used by Emory University in evaluating internet resources (Busch & Pucket, 2005). I do not believe there is much new that I bring to the table in this discussion other than my own personal experiences.
Teaching Students to Use the Internet
I am currently compiling a process by which students may learn to properly use and cite internet resources in the process of their research. In the past, because of plagiarism and outright laziness, I have forbid students from using the internet as a referenced and heavily penalized them when I have discovered sufficient evidence of plagiarism. However, with the increase of the use of technology and the need for students to be able to use something on the internet, other than use a search engine and, cut and paste in order to complete a project, I will be teaching my students how to properly do internet research (and also suggesting to the principal and the language arts teachers how to do the same).
Implementation would not be too difficult. A handout with a simple numbered process of things for a student to do along with a short introduction from myself on how to go about each step would be their basic introduction to the topic. I would schedule library computer lab time for the students to use the computers for this exercise.
In the beginning, I would simply ask them how they would normally go about finding information on the internet. Most of them will say that they will type in the keywords or subject they are looking for information on in a search engine. My follow-up question (once they click on the link to Wikipedia, which is what most will do) is to ask them exactly how they know that the information on Wikipedia is true, since anyone can edit it. I will then proceed to walk through a set of guidelines (roughly based on what I have already written in this paper) to guide students to reputable resources of information on the internet and how to discern them from unreliable resources. Each of the guidelines used above would be reduced to a one-sentence bullet point that students can write notes next to. When discussing the issue of plagiarism, I have found several university websites that will prove to be helpful in showing students the severity of what can happen to them for plagiarizing. The University of Kentucky’s Chemistry Department website, for example, tells students that the minimum penalty for plagiarism is a failing grade in the course (University of Kentucky, 1998).  This page and others that I will use provide students with demonstrate the severity of the act and how it is viewed outside of the local school system, helping to shape their minds (hopefully) on the subject. The activity would be reinforced over several class periods, with home assignments, which requested students research certain pieces of information germane to the classroom material currently being taught. The students’ final project would involve the use of the internet and books for obtaining information on a famous composer in music prior to the year 1990. Students would also be taught proper citation format (APA) for their work, and graded accordingly.

References
Oestreicher-Singer, Gail & Arun Sundararajan, Arun (2005). Digital Rights and Wrongs.
STERNbusiness, Fall/Winter 2005 (online edition). Retrieved February 1, 2008, from http://www.stern.nyu.edu/Sternbusiness/fall_2005/digitalRights.html.
Busch, Lloyd & Puckett, Jason (August 23, 2005). Internet Critical Evaluation.
Retrieved January 31, 2008 from
http://web.library.emory.edu/services/ressvcs/howguides/internet.html.
Hamlin, Jesse (September 18, 2006). Billie Holiday’s bio, ‘Lady Sings the Blues,’ may be

full of lies, but it gets at jazz great’s core. San Francisco Chronicle (online

edition). Retrieved February 1, 2008 from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-

bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/18/DDG2VL68691.DTL .

Plagiarism: Definitions, Examples and Penalties (December 12, 1998). University of

Kentucky, Department of Chemistry. Retrieved January 31, 2008 from

http://www.chem.uky.edu/Courses/common/plagiarism.html .

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