Ah, the good old days before personal computers, Internet search engines, spell check and word processing. There was none of this hitting a button and all the information popping up on my computer screen. A printer didn’t spit out my finished product. Corrections couldn’t simply be made by going back into my document and re-printing. If there were major errors, it was back to the typewriter to do it all over again.
I remember doing research papers at Penn State, going to the library during football games because that was the only time it wasn’t so crowded and I could get to the material I needed without going into battle with other students. I would spend at least three days going through the card catalogues only to find that the journal articles I wanted were not in the stacks because everyone else had gotten to them before me.
When I had gathered enough research material to actually write something, I did so longhand with my “How to Write a Term Paper” handbook in my lap to do the footnotes and citations in the correct style. When everything was finally written, it was time to bang out the final copy on my Smith Corona armed with Wite-Out and a correction tape. Yep, those were the days.
Wait, why was this good? Did I learn more because it was harder to do research and type papers? I don’t think so. If anything, I learned less because I was limited by the research available in the library at the moment I needed it.
Now, research is easier to do and available to anyone, 24/7. Students need not worry about doing citations in the correct APA or MLA format because all they need to do is plug the information into a website such as Citation Machine or Noodle Tools, and it does the formatting for you. The point could be made that if a website does that for students, they will not learn to do proper citations. Right, because they will never have to do it.
There are drawbacks to having a never-ending stream of information, and that is having a never-ending stream of information. You could research for months and never read all the information on a given subject. Some students just don’t know when to stop thinking the perfect article will be the next one, or the next one, or the next one.
These students have serious commitment issues. Other students are so overwhelmed by the plethora of information they just shut down and do nothing, while others can’t tell the difference between actual research and the opinion of some blogger from Kalamazoo.
But, even with these drawbacks, I would take the ease of researching today over the dreaded card catalogues and microfiche of the past. Just because this was the way we did it when we were our kids’ ages doesn’t make it better. Although we may not be comfortable with all the rapid changes caused by technology, we had better get used to it. Since I prefer not to feel any more outdated than I already do, I will continue to look ahead instead of dwelling on the past and invite you to do the same.