February 21st, 2011
By Cory Jensen | Comments (5)
It really bothers me when I see engineering students working on homework that rely upon computer-based references for equations. Not that I am trying to be an old codger and splash waves among current generations of students, but I remember how important it used to be to use and cite references. And yes, I had to walk up hill in the winter to school as I grew up in South Dakota (so there is some credence to that thought). One of the reasons it bothers me is because the material taken from printed materials often has been reviewed by at least one other person with known credentials.
I was taught that we use research and reviewed materials to assemble texts and build upon a continuously evolving base of knowledge. So, does the Web remove the ability to filter and back-check information? I think the answer is obvious – of course!
I entered a dispute with a recent lecturer of mine that was somewhat related to this topic. We were talking about the focus of graduate work, the importance of publications, and how books utilized research. When I mentioned it was a goal of mine to publish he said “...I don’t care about papers and publishing….I think the process if worthless…I only care about making money...”. Could this thought be part of a complacent view that moves education to quick answers and possibly lower standards of quality?
Online research as risky as online dating?
Let us compare searching the Web for technical answers to seeking out a date on the Web. Could it possibly be that if you were to seek out a date on the Web, that one would be concerned about looks and would therefore seek out pictures before going on a date? How about when looking for an equation online? If you enter enough terms you are bound to find something along the lines of thought that you are investigating. But say, when you sit down at the dinner table and you find out that the sightly match of your dreams has a tone of voice of the wrong sex, you just might not feel comfortable finishing your veggies at dinner no matter how much vino you imbibe!
So what if you use a faulty assumption with a Reynolds number that leads you to incorrectly design your fluids systems? Ooops… I guess. Hopefully no one is going to install it.
Getting down to the heart of the matter, one solution might be having to cite three references and compare the principles as presented (just as I had to do not that many years ago). Does that mean we need to have three Wikipedias?! I hope not.