Friday, October 31, 2008

Boy, has research changed!

It's been 14 years since I graduated from college, and 38 since I started the first time. No, I didn't go to school for 24 years straight. I took some time off after my first two years - and appreciated the experience much more the second time around.

Now, I'm back in the classroom again, and it still feels right. What amazes me the most this time, though, is how technology has changed the whole research experience in just these few short years since I was last in school.

Google, Noodle, J-Stor. If you'd have thrown these names at me a few years ago and told me I'd be singing their praises today, I'm sure I would have looked at you with furled brow and questioning eyes. Tonight, as I pull my paper together, I don't know what I did without these and the other electronic tools which make research so much easier and sources so much more accessible.

Searching funky things
Google is my search engine of choice, and thanks to a tip through a YouTube clip on Samuel P. Wheeler's website, Google Books is becoming my best friend. To think that there are books you can search right from the comfort of your computer at midnight or 5:00 a.m. just blows me away.

Noodle is this neat tool which creates your citations for you. I'm still learning it, but a little cutting and pasting into a template, and all the formatting is done for me - indents and all. No longer will I need that little blue term paper guide I've been using since the nuns introduced me to it back when I started high school in 1966 - nor will I have to fight with the tab key on my keyboard.

For years, when I walked into the Galesburg Public Library, just a couple blocks from the site of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate or Seymour Library on the Knox College campus just a couple buildings from Old Main, I headed straight to the Reader's Guide to Periodicals or the card file. Now, I can find all the articles I need online through J-Stor and borrow books from other libraries through I-Share. Everything is so much more accessible today, thanks to these tools I'm privileged to use as a Heartland College student.

I even found newspapers articles about Lincoln through Wheeler's site. It's all so incredible!

Pluses and minuses
The pluses - you can find everything you're looking for and so much more.
The minuses - you can find everything you're looking for and so much more.

That's right, once you get started on a research project, you can really go to town. In the past, you'd scrounge to find a few sources accessible through the libraries nearby, call it quits and do the paper with what you could find. Now it's all at your fingertips.

But, once you get started on a research project, you don't know where to stop. There is so much available, and there are so many different points of view. There is so much myth and so much scholarship and it's so addictive.

You know some of the paths you've stumbled on today will be paths you'll have to leave untrodden today, but your heart tells you you'll be back. The bug of scholarship has bitten. You'll do this paper, within the scope you set for yourself, but you'll return. You'll seek out those other trails, you'll cut the brush aside just like those early settlers to Illinois and you'll move forward on that next Lincoln project, knowing it, too, will just lead to one more. Now I know why those Lincoln scholars I admire do what they do. They can't help it either!

© Copyright 2008 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

No comments: