ACRLog readers are probably familiar with the phrase “good enough is good enough”, particularly as it is applied to the student research environment. The phrase suggests that student research need only satisfy some vague level of accomplishment defined by acquiring the first available information acquired with a walk down the path of least resistance. In the past I’ve argued that we should hold our students accountable for more than just “good enough” and to engage them in learning how to accomplish high quality research. Advocates of the “good enough is good enough” school of thought see students as incapable of learning or simply unwilling to learn the skills needed to fine tune their information searches. The good enough crowd is willing to accept that the majority of students are just fine with instant gratification-style research.
At a recent meeting of librarians and educators one of the attendees expressed views about the “good enough” research method, and claimed it is now the defacto standard for research. I thought that was an interesting comment, and engaged this individual in conversation after the program session. It turned out to be a good conversation, and it gave me some new ways to look at this whole “good enough” school of thought. It wasn’t that my colleague thought students were incapable of achieving higher quality research – and readily admitted that faculty needed to establish high expectations for quality research from students. The problem as he saw it was that search engines and a host of socio-cultural factors have indelibly left their mark on student research behavior. Expecting more than good enough searching was simply unrealistic in our times.
Where we found some common ground was in agreeing that good enough research needed to be a starting – not ending – point on the path to higher quality research informed by critical thinking. The challenge is how to get students to move beyond their initial good enough research. Why not, we thought, take advantage of students’ own predilection towards learning in groups, sharing information with fellow students, and interest in generating content in communities. Might students, working in social communities be able to apply some form of “wisdom of the crowd” in improving their research? A possible model for this approach would be Nature’s experimental peer review model. This allows any author to have his or her manuscript posted on a public server where it is then open to comments (no anonymous comments are allowed). In this model, what might start out as good enough research could, through a community of comment, move to a higher level of research quality as well as act to weed out poor citations, questionable information and potential plagiarism.
What I’m thinking of isn’t available yet. But if someone can develop a tool to detect plagiarism in student papers, why not create a tool that detects citations that were taken off the first page of a search engine results, that shows when the percentage of cites from Wikepedia is greater than 50%, or other indicators that suggest a student took the research path of less resistance. Tools could be made available to allow students to help fellow students identify better resources, or that allow a faculty member to establish groups or teams that review everyone’s research. Not unlike information literacy, any initiative that involves improving student skills must happen collaboratively with faculty.
I think there may be some promise in tapping into the collective wisdom of students and applying it to research conducted for writing or other assignments. I’m sure there are faculty who already do something similar within a class by having students exchange papers for review and proofreading. What if we could develop a social system that operates on a larger scale to allow students to improve the quality of their research through a peer review process that helps them move their research from just “good enough” to “meets high expectations.” Now that’s a social network I would like to join.