A message from Lorcan Dempsey
The network is rich in opportunity, at all levels, and, as we know, for much of the time Google has become the key to this opportunity. Google is the starting point for much student activity, as they research assignments or prepare for tests.
As I was thinking about this recently, I was aware of two contact points with our work. The first is the Visitors and Residents project in which we collaborate with Oxford University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, with support from Jisc in the UK (White and Connaway 2011-2012). This is exploring the different ways in which students—at various stages—engage with the network to get their work done. One of the interesting results of this work is the identification of the learning black market (Connaway, Lanclos, and Hood 2013).
David White, of Oxford University, describes this as follows:
In simple terms students personal use of the internet is generally very effective for their education but they are nervous that their practices are not valid and don’t reveal them to their tutors. The messages or lack of messages from educational institutions on these practices is generating a learning black market which masks the sheer scale of these new modes of engagement (David White 2011).
He goes on to talk about two examples. In the first students will use Facebook messaging to collaborate with each other as they look for help or work to get an assignment completed. He calls the second the GWR approach (Google > Wikipedia > References), where students search on their topic, find a Wikipedia article, and then extract from it references in the footnotes. We can readily think of other examples. Think of searching for worked out math or science problems on Google. It would be interesting to do some work to assess the extent to which Yahoo! Answers or other services are used in this regard. Some work is being done to identify the subject areas and types of questions asked in Yahoo! Answers and QuestionPoint (Radford, Connaway, and Shah 2011-2013.).
Of course, there are now many high quality open educational resources on the web. I mentioned Kahn Academy and Crash Course above. However, as anybody who has helped a middle-schooler compile a bibliography knows, there is some ambiguity, or perhaps more appropriately, some arbitrariness, around what is required or what is 'authoritative' when faced with the range of materials available. And as Dave notes above, because of "the messages or lack of messages from educational institutions" some behaviors are hidden.
The Visitors and Residents project is described in the following presentation.