In the process of researching online on online topics, I noted two critiques of academia:
1) vehicles for searching online resources are inadequate
2) academic research remains too cloistered
The last few weeks were the first time ever for me that I was exposed to the wealth of electronic academic research. I thought there was lots of information on the Web before, but I was stunned by the quantity and quality of academic information available to students (the databases require log-in and an individual subscription is prohibitively expensive).
Royal Roads University has one of the largest electronic libraries in Canada, which is fitting as it is primarily an online university. Electronic information there takes the forms of:
- online journal databases
- electronic theses
Online academic resources a treasure, albeit hidden & sans map
I did extensively use online academic journals and this is where I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. I had no idea how many journals there were, some of which, believe it or not, aren’t completely esoteric.
There are essentially two problems that I discovered with online searching of these journal databases. Problem one is that there is a bewildering array of journal databases. Second, the search engines for pretty much all these services are, well, crappy. Granted, graduate students do require more advanced search skills than a normal online surfer would need, but still the search tools are unnecessarily complicated, buggy at times, and just plain miss things. I found a lot of instances where I was searching the entire body of articles and certain results would not appear, but later, having found these articles via other means, I would find the terms appearing prominently.
The journal database search engines were so generally poor that I had to use other means, serendipity being the most painful method for time-pressed procrastinators such as myself.
Google Scholar helps save my day
Fortunately, someone turned me onto Google Scholar. I found it retrieved items from academic databases better than the databases own search, plus Google Scholar pulls up other applicable information as well. Truly a very handy tool - thank you Google!
Ivory towers cloister useful research
My final complaint is that while I was also surprised by the quantity and quality of academic research on Internet topics, I was miffed that I never saw any of it before. I’ve worked in the Internet for years, have read books and articles, and been to conferences and was never exposed to this research before.
Granted, it is possible that this research could have come to me via other authors and speakers who digested and regurgitated it. Also, it's not like the research is fit for wider application as can be exceedingly and, I might add, unnecessarily obtuse and elitist (another complaint, sorry). But some research is fine for everyone working in the field as is, and in other cases the findings could be repurposed for wider distribution.
Frankly, I think that too much of academia is infatuated with itself and doesn’t make enough effort to share their research to the outside world. With this attitude one ends up with research for research’s sake. And those, like me, who can benefit from the information don’t get it.