DAVID ROSMAN: Offline research essential, even in the digital age

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:53 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I could have written about something political, Saturday’s Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium between Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart, which was much better than the Romney-Obama Show last Wednesday — Romney’s steamroller versus Obama’s scared 5-year-old.

These debates have been folded, stapled and mutilated by the press, pundits and political wannabes to non-recognition. No, let’s talk about a problem one of my students brought up in her political-persuasion speech.

For this class, a "political speech" concerns the changing of a rule. That rule can be a statute, ordinance or a rule at work or at school. Her speech was about a rule instituted by many news organizations — the infamous paywall rules.

Introduction to Public Speaking classes are designed to do a number of things beyond teaching students how to give a speech. One outcome I emphasize is the importance of the voice of a single person in our governmental process, to be able to speak in front of City Council or a legislative committee with strength, passion and proofs with citations. To be able to ask the right questions and to keep questioning when one believes the response was a non-answer. Rosman Rule 29: "Ask, listen, ask again."

The student was attempting to conduct research concerning paywalls when the object of her study bit her in the butt. She found articles in the Columbia Missourian that she could not access without paying money.

Other students researching in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were stymied by their paywalls without warning. The Wall Street Journal has a tiered system that has some reports free and others blocked. The New York Times and the Columbia Daily Tribune limits one to 10 free articles per month, then the paywall hits. I have run into these same situations when conducting research for this column.

To make matters worse, the Denver Post and others no longer maintain archives older than 20 to 30 years. There goes history.

When a student is limited to the number of searches or refused access to 25-hour-old documents, research becomes at best difficult, at worst impossible. This is especially true for students attending community colleges or the working adult students whose time may be limited and who have extremely limited financial resources.

The slippery slope argument continues; paywalls will expand to government websites, university sites for non-students, corporate information sites and others, preventing good and accurate research. To libraries? I certainly hope not, but with budgetary problems …

My student thought this was unfair as it concerned education, and I agreed to a point. To paraphrase "The X-Files" FBI agent Fox Mulder, “The information is out there.”

The real problem: We are not teaching students how to conduct research if one is thwarted by the lack of technology.We are not teaching students how to think or think for themselves, or critical thinking.

Solutions? News services allowing unlimited access through high school, college and university libraries without charge to the school or student. Better …

Teach our students how to use what is available in the local and university libraries offline. Make research a required subject for all students regardless of major on the undergraduate and high school levels. Include classes in critical thinking as well.

Remind students and others that hundreds of millions of trees have given their lives to produce books, newspapers, magazines and academic and professional journals. Honor the trees.

Show students that a short search at Ellis and other university libraries, or in our own Columbia Public Library, may yield better information from more reliable sources in hard copy. I must concede that libraries have their catalogs online. Unfortunate, but understandable.

Teach them how to engage critical thinking skills, how to ask the right questions and never to assume. Rosman Rule 29 — “Ask, listen, ask again.”

Have we become so dependent on computers to conduct our educational, personal and business tasks that without technology we are simply lost? Are we failing our students by not teaching them how the world works when technology fails?

I believe we are. If the United States wants to regain its number one position in math and science, we need to include research and critical thinking skills. Does this mean we must get rid of technology? No, but we each have available the most powerful computer for free — our brains. Use it or lose it.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams October 10, 2012 | 4:28 p.m.

"Have we become so dependent on computers to conduct our educational, personal and business tasks that without technology we are simply lost? Are we failing our students by not teaching them how the world works when technology fails?"

The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Sound the trumpets! Rosman and I agree on something!

I still do a bit of teaching in the adult ed sciences. One huge concern is how students use Google or other search engines to find only what they need...and no more. The students simply find the needed paragraph/sentence, paraphrase it, reference it, and submit it.

All without reading the entire text (or at least a chapter) to get a complete context.

I object, your honor!

Students illuminate a topic but are not enlightened.

I make some serious rules about these things called "references" in research papers. First, no more than 3 internet references and those better be damned good ones (there's crap on the internet for those who did not know). Second, be careful of your magazine references....there's crap in those, also. Third, any quote(s) from a talking head on the radio/TV OR THEIR WEBPAGES is going to cost points...a bunch of them. Fourth, you better show you understand context because I read, too, and can generally pick up on whether you understand what you are saying. Fifth, there is this wonderful place called the library filled with peer-reviewed information....Use it.

And, finally, Williams' Rule 432: Everyone has an agenda. You, me, and everyone else....including this newspaper. The only question is whether the agenda is benign, neutral, or malicious/misleading. After you recognize this fact, then you apply Rosman Rule 29 to figure out the agenda-answer above. Once you know the agenda, you're halfway home.

Also Williams' Rule 92: If you can't explain something in your own words (and only post a link to someone else's interpretation), then you don't understand it.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman October 12, 2012 | 5:11 p.m.

@ Michael - WHOOHOO! I knew we could agree on something out there, as long as it is not politics. LOL
Thank you, my friend, for the response. Very thoughtful and insightful.

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