Student queries

Dennis Paulson
Wed, 19 Jan 2000 14:58:59 -0800

Odonata -

I'll add my two cents to this discussion by saying how much I too have
noticed student research being conducted largely or entirely on the web,
both by the students in the class I teach here and by the questions I
receive by e-mail.  Presumably because of my web site, I get several
questions/week on dragonflies from students and nonstudents and as many on
vertebrates.  I often try to answer the questions, but each time I do I
remind the person that they should be trying the library or a thorough web
search before they abrogate all responsibility for effort and just "ask the
expert."  During particular busy times, I've even let a little pique creep
into my answer.  I have had a few people respond that they lived in a small
town and didn't have a library, except for a small public library with nary
a book on dragonflies (or whatever the subject matter), and they really had
no idea how to get their question answered.  This might be especially true
in developing countries, and I'm much more willing to answer questions
directly for people from those countries.

The fact remains that for some people, a complete compendium of information
about Odonata is not available, because they can't afford Philip Corbet's
book and it's not in their local library.  And of course Philip's book
lacks some of the kinds of information that interest many people - faunal
studies, identification, detailed accounts of a particular species, etc.
The web still falls far short of providing all of this, although it's
getting better all the time.

This brings up the very important question of our responsibility for
providing this information.  Should we place our newsletters and journals
and books on the web when or soon after they're published?  It behooves us
to have information disseminated in the most efficient way we can, so this
sounds ideal, yet I admit that we can't both assume a brisk sales of the
books we write and publish at great effort AND put them on the web for all
to possess free.  The same goes for journal publication; many journals are
available on the web, but usually only by paid subscription, which can be
too expensive by far for many students.

Using the Corbet book as an example, I wouldn't want to rob Philip or his
publishers of one penny of the money that is due them for the great effort
of putting out their book, and of course it wouldn't have been published in
the first place without some assurance that enough copies would be sold at
least to recompense the publisher for the effort.  Yet wouldn't it be
wonderful if all the information in it was available to anyone interested?
This is very much one of the conundrums of our time that I hope can be
resolved in the future.

And, by the way, for all of us suspicious teachers, I just heard about
software being developed that can compare a student's electronically
submitted paper with everything on the web to look for plagiarism.
Apparently a disturbingly large proportion of students were "caught" by
this program at one university, and the great majority had no idea they
were committing plagiarism!

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 253-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 253-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail
Tacoma, WA 98416

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