University students banned from Google and Wikipedia

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A lecturer from the University of Brighton has banned her students from researching their essays on Google and Wikipedia, dubbing the phenomenon ‘The University of Google’. Speaking to the Brighton Argus newspaper Professor Tara Brabazon said thousands of students across the country, including those at the universities of Brighton and Sussex, were churning out banal and mediocre work by using what search engines provided them:

“I ban my students from using Google, Wikipedia and other websites like that. I give them a reading list to work from and expect them to cite a good number of them in any work they produce.”

She will be giving a lecture on the issue, called Google Is “White Bread For The Mind”, at the Sallis Benney Theatre in Grand Parade, Brighton, on Wednesday at 6.30pm.

 Update: The professor in question actually has a – presumably unbanned – Wikipedia page.

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  • Yorik

    I am currently studying in Brighton uni.

    What’s wrong with Google ? Wikipedia is fair enough, anyone can change the content and therefore information cannot be regarded as 100% accurate all the time. But Google ??? It’s not the source like Wiki, it’s merely a method to find out more objective information.
    For example, what if student cannot get a book from a library which is on a reading list (common issue if the title is needed by many) ? He or she must not use Google to get the book in an electronic format ?
    Major step back.

  • Dan

    This may be more widespread… My mother-in-law is a university lecturer and has always banned students from using Wikipedia for any research (Maybe other sites too).

    I think her main concerns were the accuracy of the information along with the ease of getting information without actually understanding any of it.

  • Dennis Howlett

    How mindnumbingly stupid – the sub-text I hear is: ‘Read my shit, I know my shit and this is the shit you need to learn. Everyone else’s shit is…well…shit.”

  • Dave Briggs

    Hang on, the people being unbelievably stupid here are the students.

    Anyone who thinks any encyclopedia is adequate for an academic paper is a moron and should be expelled immediately.

  • I Am Not Posting To Spam My Blog

    How on earth is she going to stop her students using Google? If a student finds a source on Google and cites that source, there’s no way she can prove that the student found it on Google. Equally it’s a no-brainer that Wikipedia shouldn’t be cited as a source, but it can provide a good starting point. And if you use it just for background knowledge, or even cite the sources Wikipedia used, she can’t prove that’s what you did.

    A meaningless random flail at modern technology, from a media studies lecturer no less. “Too many students don’t use their own brains enough” – yes, that’s why they thought “I have no useful skills but I like watching TV, I’ll sign up for meeja studies”. What’s wrong with white bread anyway?

  • David Petherick

    Well, that should get a full house at her lecture, but two points

    1) Will anyone be allowed to blog the lecture?

    2) You can very easily get banal and mediocre essays when you provide a reading list, and nobody writing the essays takes the trouble to find any other references independently.

    I understand the wish to avoid ‘copy and paste’ rather than read, evaluate, and select references to support your argument, but why not also insist on the essays being hand written on parchment? ;-)

    I’m sure those bright Brighton students will come up with their very own ‘study wiki’…

  • Ivan Pope

    Mike, how about giving us the name of this person – basic information, no? And department – it is relevant, no?

  • Ahmed Ibrahim

    This is a step back for the academic world. During my studies for BA and MSc I was often encouraged to search outside the conventional wisdom of text books and journals provided by the lecturer’s reading list. I was often reminded that by citing the works provided in lists by lecturers would lead me to a poor mark as there was no evidence of extra thought. It would be all too easy, banal and mediocre if students were limited to the reading list.

    Academics should be embracing the technology of the internet as other sources of reliable information, and thus should be awarded the credit due for the extra time taken to research a genuine not often published in textbooks but published often through Google Scholar.

    Of course there is no excuse for using Wikipedia or other such sites and I agree with the lecturer in concern on this point. Agreeing also with @Dan about the accuracy of the information and understanding it too but I feel that the academic world should not be moving away from technology that opens the world to students, nor should they rely on their students using just a reading list. The list is just guidance, at the end of the day the student is responsible for researching more thoroughly more sources to show, as mentioned by @yorik, objective information.

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  • Chris Fleming

    This sounds to me like one of those sensational headlines just made to drum up publicity…

    It has always been the case that work should reference a number of different sources, and in some cases there is no reason why these couldn’t be online sources.

    Surely someone just quoting from wikipedia should get a poor mark for research just as would someone who quoting from a single book or journal?

  • Jemima Kiss

    That’s a depressingly backward stance.

    The web is just a tool: the more time-consuming but intelligent and long-term solution would be to teach students how to use that tool. Apart from that, she has absolutely no way of implementing her ban.

    Why not contact Google, and ask one of their London-based Google Books reps to come and speak about online research techniques, and about the thousands of titles at universities and libraries that are being digitised and made searchable online?

  • Ben Stevenson

    Rather than banning certain websites – why not teach students how to evaluate how reliable a source of information is? Peer reviewed academic journals can be wrong, and Wikipedia is often correct.
    The University of Brighton has information on Google Scholar, with some of its possible limitations for finding literature – although it was written over two years ago.

    I tend to find things through Google Scholar, then see if the university has online access to them.

  • Archaeogeek

    Surely what she should be doing instead is teaching her students the value of proper research, going to primary sources wherever possible, the danger of citing any kind of web source (when it could be taken down the very next day). I think she’s going to get some very boring and limited essays from her students if she asks them to use a very limited set of sources. It also says a lot more about her limitations as a lecturer than her student’s ability to research essays!

  • David Gerard

    PECKHAM POLYTECHNIC, Saturday (UNN) — A lecturer has criticised students for relying on “books” and “journals” to do their thinking for them.

    Tara Raboomtiyay, Professor of Reflexive Perspectives on Post-Modern Verbosity at the University of Bumsonseats, said too many young people around the world were taking the easy option when asked to do research and simply repeating the first things they found in library searches.

    She has dubbed the phenomenon “The University of Dead Words On Paper.”

    “The education world has pursued new technology with an almost evangelical zeal,” she said. “Too many students don’t use their own brains enough and just cite something they see in a ‘book’ or a ‘journal.’ We need to bring back the important values of critical reading and net forum discussion. Young people are finishing education with shallow ideas and need to learn interpretative skills before starting to use technology.

    “Thousands of students across Britain are churning out banal and mediocre work by stringing together references to what ‘libraries’ provide them. I don’t think students come to university to learn how to use ‘books,’ they can all do that before they get here. It is an easy way out for tutors to let them work to their own devices using ‘literature searches,’ rather than active participatory discussion on phpBB. People have to pay to come to university now and what they are paying for is the knowledge, experience and guidance of forum moderators like myself.

    “I warn you, if you keep doing this ‘writing’, you’ll lose your memory!”

    She will be giving a lecture on the issue, called Britannica Is White Bread For The Mind, at the Alan Dubious Lecture Theatre on Wednesday at 6.30pm.

  • Daniel Bower

    As a recent graduate I can understand the problem the lecturers face. On too many occasions did I arrive at a seminar to find the students who were supposed to be presenting reading of a Wikipedia print out. It’s not good enough at that level, and indeed is not intended for that purpose.

    That said, the rule does seem somewhat draconian. I expect the more contentious students avoid Wikipedia without having to be told.

  • Rosie

    Tara has her on page on Wikipedia (!)

    Surely, if students are not producing the quality of work required then this is likely to be a reflection on whoever is teaching them?

  • Mad Dog

    Surely the value of a work should be judged from the quality of the content? Seems to me this lecturer just isn’t doing her job properly. Anyone marking an essay has a responsibility to provide a mark based on the quality of the essay produced. Therefore it shouldn’t matter what the sources are, however if the student has used poor quality sources that should be obvious from the content produced. If this person doesn’t know how to tell the difference and instead just bans certain sources, she should be sacked.

    That said, I do agree with the basic principles here. Wikipedia is obviously a poor quality source, however a smart student should be able to gain some useful information from it especially if checking against other sources, as should be recommended practice. The same goes for Google. The basic principle of corroborating your sources still applies. Unless you’re a lazy git I doubt life is any easier using Google or Wikipedia than it is if using the tried and tested method of doing all your research through library books, journals and other peer-reviewed publications. Putting the work in always gets the best results! Google, Wikipedia et al have their place, the difference is in learning to use them properly, and not relying on the information without checking it first.

    When i was doing my masters (back in the good ol’ days) I was told that I wasn’t allowed to cite ANY online source, because information on the web is unreliable and could be put up by anyone. That’s still true today, although I believe online content does have its place today and CAN be used – but still not relied upon.

  • RV Kennedy

    The problem here is referencing. You can’t just cite a random website and you certainly shouldn’t use Wikipedia as a primary source. But using Google and Wikipedia to find the sources is a great boon. My pet peeve though, is that the actual sources are usually locked behind a journal portal, which demands a cash payment to download the pdf, unless you’re affiliated with a university AND that university happens to have a subscription to the precise journal or portal. Just imagine how quickly research would get done if every journal made its papers available for free. All it would take is the kind of patronage that builds university libraries.

    But don’t get me started on pdf filenames. How about using the paper’s title, anyone? Anyone?

  • Sean

    The whole point is that journals books and so forth go under review. Any pleb can claim to be an expert and post information on a website.

  • P

    Doesn’t the stunning inability of anyone to understand what she actually said prove her point?

  • Nicholas

    Dear Mike,
    Without wanting to do too much self advertising on this subject, but we are working on a solution to this problem in the form of twidox ( The aim of Twidox is to create an online library of ‘quality’ documents which have been created and uploaded by our users; such as academics, researchers and non governmental agencies. Documents on the website will be accessible to all and will allow people to share their knowledge and help others in their work and research. This means documents will be quotable and students will be able to see the reading list from other people, allowing them to do even deeper research.
    All the best,

  • Emily Lloyd
  • Luke Dicken

    Banning these tools is a ridiculous move. I wouldn’t have survived my undergrad courses without access to them. Which is not to say that people should quote from them verbatim or use them as their main source of information, but you can penalise those who do that directly without banning useful legitimate sources of information.

    This is either a very ill-informed knee-jerk reaction, or an attempt to grab some cheap headlines. Either way, its a waste-of-time course at a fairly mediocre university so it won’t make much of a difference to anything in the long run.

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