A Research Tool You Didn’t Know You Needed

How many of us do loads of our research online? I suggest for many it’s going to be the first port of call especially when embarking on a new subject area.  Why bother with the local or college library when you can do all that research from the comfort of your own home.  Now of course there’s nothing wrong with this but unfortunately many students have limited skills on using the internet to research properly.

Yes I said internet research skills, there is more to using the internet than just typing in your assignment into Google.  For instance every teacher or professor is well aware that it’s perfectly possible to copy and paste together an assignment from online sources.  Yet students still do this every year in every college all over the world.  Be warned plagurism is not tolerated in most academic establishments and there are many technologies used by colleges to ensure that work is original.  If you can find a piece of work on the internet then be assured so can the technology used by most colleges.

There are other dangers, one of  the biggest is trust.  There is little guarantee that most online sources contain accurate information – take for instance Wikipedia.  This site contains loads of useful information and indeed much of it is accurate – however Wikipedia pages can actually be edited by anyone.  There are checks and editors on most pages but there is still a very real risk that a page can contain lots of inaccurate or completely wrong information.

Another problem for students can be the increasing use of geotargeting by major web sites.  This is where access is restricted based on your location – so for instance a web site based in France may block access to users outside France.  Although this practice is not common amongst academic sources currently – there are some valuable resources blocked using this technology.  For example accessing the wonderful BBC IPlayer from anywhere but the United Kingdom is blocked.   Fortunately there are tools which circumvent these restrictions which you can invest in if required.  For instance if you want to access the Iplayer in the USA, this site shows you how to use VPNs, proxies to watch on anything from an Ipad to a desktop PC.