As the morning news today claimed that most students in the UK are guilty of plagiarism and copy and paste huge chunks of material found on the internet, a UK professor has criticised the effect that Google is having on students, calling the search engine ‘white bread for the mind’

Tara Brabazon of the University of Brighton believes that the easy access to information that Google offers students is taking away their critical abilities.

She claims that many students are unable to distinguish between superficial and reliable information they find via search engines, and urges schools to give students the ability to critically interpret information they find online.

According to the professor:
“Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments.”

“Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content,”

Her students are now forbidden to use search engines and sites like Wikipedia for their academic research, and instead are supplied with extracts from academic texts.

The chief problem, as she see it, is that the search engines give equal credence to pieces of information from sources online, whether they are written by experts on a subject or not.

This argument is not new, and similar opinions have been voiced by author Andrew Keen, who believes that the internet gives equal prominence to the opinions of both experts and amateurs.

While some, lazier, students may be churning out mediocre work by using sources online, surely it would be a better idea to encourage them to think critically about the sources of information they find online.

What do we think? We believe that students have always copied content from other sources – perhaps it has become worse with the advent of ‘copy and paste’ but it is not a new phenomenon.

Blaming the internet, and search engines in particular, for not separating expert and amateur opinion is short sighted and we should give credit to the more gifted students who are able to sift through the various opinions and form their own. Adopting an ostrich approach and burying your head in the sand is not the most sensible approach. The internet is here to stay and search engines will become ever more important as a means of finding content that you are looking for – only human brains will be able to truly determine the quality of that content.