What’s “Print?”

I’ve assigned many research projects in my time as a teacher. Perhaps you have, too. Research, the process of looking and re-looking at the way an issue or idea has been explored, is a vital part of learning.

Perhaps you, like me, have assigned research projects that required that students cite their sources, and perhaps you, like me, wanted to make sure your students went deeper than a quick Google search and the top five hits for whatever search term or terms they happened to type in the first time they went looking.

So maybe you, like me, made a requirement of the project that students had to include one or more “print sources,” materials that couldn’t be downloaded from the Web.

If so, maybe you have this question, too:

What does “print resource” mean anymore? Has it become a meaningless term?

Let’s consider for a moment what used to count. An article from a newspaper was, in my classroom, considered a print resource. How about now? I’m more likely to read my local paper online than I am to read the print edition. Is an article from the newspaper still a print resource?

How about a magazine article? When I was in middle and high school, one of the great resources at the local library was a collection of magazine articles on CD-ROM databases. Even then, a magazine article wasn’t a print source, but it counted as one. Maybe because I was required to turn in a printout of the article with the final draft of my papers.

Encyclopedias? By high school, encyclopedias shouldn’t be cited by anyone, much less count as sources. But they did, and often do.

So might I humbly suggest a small change to any assignment that requires students to provide a “print” resource?  Ask them for a primary source instead.

The print/electronic binary is over.  Dead.  (And I do so dislike saying that something’s “dead.” But the difference between print and electronic is a meaningless difference, at least when we’re talking research. ) The transmission medium that delivered the message might not be the most important consideration in student research.  And print stuff still matters – but not if it’s included solely because it’s on a piece of paper.

Ask students to think, instead, about primary and secondary sources.   And later, after you’ve mastered that, ask them to think about the difference between citationality and attribution, and why that might matter in their research.  And yours.

25 thoughts on “What’s “Print?”

  1. mporter says:

    So, by extension, the concept of turning in a “paper” is moribund, too?

  2. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora e Bud!

    I agree. But I also wonder at the proposed replacement(s). I see a rift in the level of understanding needed.

    What’s suggested here is to replace what used to be a fairly easy idea, that of ‘printed source’, with what are cognitively far more difficult ideas to digest and disseminate: primary/secondary source, citationality and attribution.

    From an objective point of view, is it more important that a learner recognise the appropriateness of content of a source (whether primary or secondary) or that they recognise the academic nature of information/knowledge per se?

    Catchya later
    .-= Ken Allan´s last blog ..Denial – Tumbling Walls =-.

  3. I’m totally with you on the idea that the print/non-print distinction is essentially no longer relevant. However, like Mr. Allan, I disagree with this solution:

    So might I humbly suggest a small change to any assignment that requires students to provide a “print” resource? Ask them for a primary source instead.

    The appropriateness of a primary source or a secondary is completely dependent on the nature of the inquiry.

  4. thehurt says:

    I couldn’t agree more on the “death” of print sources. I realized a couple of years back that this was becoming more of a reality, and I think the demise of the Seattle P-I was what sold me on that reality.
    In my 8th and 9th grade classes, I no longer require print sources (haven’t for a couple of years now). As a result, I’ve seen a clear need for teaching students about information literacy – how to evaluate sources, what makes a good source (primary vs. secondary is part of this), and how to cite those sources. We talk about the value of Wikipedia as a starting point, but also that it isn’t a primary source and shouldn’t be cited.
    At my level, I think it’s critical that students start to learn about these concepts. When I watch them search at the beginning of the year, they just assume that the first Google result has the answers they need. Even if they’re lucky enough to find relevant information, they simply assume that it is good information and cite it. Without the discussion of source quality or primary/secondary sources, this is what they do. By the end of the year (hopefully), my students at least understand that they can’t always trust that first result.
    Good stuff, as always. Thanks.
    .-= thehurt´s last blog ..Working Towards Sustainable Schools =-.

    1. Alicia says:

      Yes! I teach 6-8th grade and completely agree.
      We teach students to research so they can go out and inform their own decisions, I hope. Why not teach them from day one in the medium they are using? Too often students use a search engine and believe that the top hit must be the only one they need to peruse.

      When students start researching, they need to start learning also about appropriate sources (hey, this could even be a great life lesson– don’t trust everybody) I also liked the idea that Carolyn had about ranking the sources, and discussing the reasons. It allows them to come up with the reasons for exclusion rather than us just telling them “NO”

  5. Clix says:

    The appropriateness of a primary source or a secondary is completely dependent on the nature of the inquiry.

    And upon the nature of the source, regardless of whether it’s primary or secondary.

    Bud – how do we gain access to good primary sources?
    .-= Clix´s last blog ..EduCarnival v2 – Issue 14 =-.

  6. Bud,

    You’ve summarized this dilemma eloquently.

    As a librarian, I struggle with it and see our teachers and students struggling with this crossroads as well.

    Just last week, I ended up using Google Books to find a book for a student who was researching an obscure person but was required to have a book source. I had already searched two local public libraries and our library, as well as our university library, to no avail but found a book on Google Books. I feel somewhat “crafty” when I tell students that even though it’s online, they can count it as a book. But it’s true, of course.

    So first off, I agree, that using the “best’ sources possible is the goal for our students, and helping them evaluate what those are. There are many things we can do to steer them to a better understanding of what the best sources are.
    Formal teacher/librarian/student onferencing during the research process is one that comes to mind.

    Another exercise I sometimes suggest is that a teacher can have a student spend the day searching for sources, and then have them rank their results, with an annotated explanation of why they ranked them the way they did. This helps students distinguish quality and really think about what they’ve found in databases or via Google.

    As to your suggestion about primary sources, I often think this is the ‘missing piece’ when we teach research in schools. Professional researchers, authors, historians, scientists, often use primary research in their real world work.

    Are they appropriate for every assignment? While I’m not so sure I like requirements that ‘limit’ students rather than organic ones that grow out of their research experience, I think those requirements do help expose students to possibilities they might not have considered before, which is a growing experience, just like requiring them to journal about their research or blog about it, or whatever.

    Primary sources are easy to come by, because interviews are a primary source. And for every subject they might research, there is someone to interview–a teacher, a parent, someone who works at a nonprofit in town, a scientist at the university level….and I do think that is a particular primary source that can add a great deal of value.

    Of course, there are many other primary sources, but I wanted to point out that option because it is the easiest to teach and to incorporate into a lesson and also has great real world value for our students.

    Lastly, I would like to encourage teachers to enlist the help of the librarian. When we’re teaching students about sources, and options, who could be a better guide than the person who works with sources all day every day?

    Most librarians have an excellent understanding of this dilemma as we often help students through it.

    Thanks for outlining this dilemma so well. I may even jump this conversation to my own blog since I think you explore some excellent points!

  7. Kellie Ady says:

    This post made me think (as usual) about the importance of shifts in language. More and more of our teachers are encouraging usage of online subscription databases, which typically are electronic versions of existing paper versions. Yet, out of habit, many of them still ask for a certain number of “print” resources. Huh. Never really thought about what they were really requiring.

    I think this distinction (primary vs. print) might also yield some interesting reflections on the part of our student writers. They are also creators of primary & secondary documents or sources, even if not printed. Perhaps being able to think in terms of primary vs. secondary rather than print might also help them view their own work with a different lens?

    Thanks for posting this. It has made me think about how we phrase the process. Next stop: helping people find alternatives to handwritten notecards . . .
    .-= Kellie Ady´s last blog ..Comprehension & web content: main ideas & prediction =-.

  8. I like what the innovativeeducator says: 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!
    .-= Terry C Elliott´s last blog ..Obeisance to Food =-.

  9. Bud-

    I love your suggestion to use more primary sources! Primary sources add depth and context to nearly every student research project whether they are the focus or simply a means of building background understanding.

    I know that you stress the wise and sensible use of sources of all kinds, and your concern about being stuck in the old print paradigm is well placed. In addition, many teachers currently in the classroom did not grow up with the same easy access to online primary sources that today’s students enjoy. We owe it to those students to help them identify excellent collections of primary sources. Once they have identified relevant primary source websites, students also need guidance to become skilled navigators as well as to apply primary source analysis techniques.

    I’ve written a follow-up post on my Primary Source Librarian blog (http://www.maryjjohnson.com/primarysourcelibrarian). Thank you, Bud, for pushing me to think about access, use, source requirements, and more!

    .-= Mary J. Johnson´s last blog ..Primary Sources as Alternatives to Print Requirements =-.

  10. K. Murphy says:

    As a recent student in high school and as a current college student I agree with this post. I found it rather hard to find “print”. When I needed a newspaper article I usually found those online. I loved using the internet because it was easier to find the exact information that you needed. I also think that students should be required to use .edu or .gov websites or just make sure that the websites have value. A student cannot trust just any website and expect to get true information.

  11. This issue is our problem, not the students. Because we are older and we are, no matter our level of comfort with technology, still the tourists and students are the natives. Oh, to be a native in their world! What we cannot do is let the technology dictate the pedagogy. The teachers (and librarians, of course) must be clear on what methods, sources, sites are appropriate well before assigning any research projects at all. We can also create our own search engines, too, if we use Google apps…
    .-= Stacy Nockowitz´s last blog ..Creating Lesson Plan Objectives =-.

    1. Lindsay Norwood says:

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say that we cannot let the technology dictate the pedagogy. In thinking of these as two different things, doesn’t it just reinforce the tourist mentality. Obviously, I agree with you that we need to be clear about methods and sources but shouldn’t the technology and pedagogy be inseparable? Shouldn’t we be thinking of them as being the same thing. I don’t think of writing and word processing as different things. Isn’t merging these types of concepts part of what Bud is talking about? Lest I sound condemning, know that I’m just thinking out loud and considering posing this question to my journalism students who I’m sure will just roll their eyes at me. While I struggle with the semantic issues about whether or not a newspaper published online a print or electronic resource.

      On a side note, I have to really wonder how “primary” a source can really be in this day and age.

  12. Michael says:

    As a third year college student I can defiantly agree that “print” is dead or dying. Only once have I physically gone to our university’s library to pick up a book for research. All my information from journals and even full texts of books I have found online for research. I do not see a problem with sitting at your desk or the computer lab and browsing the Internet for sources compared to walking the aisles in a library. However, it is still important to find scholarly and/or reliable sources.

    I would agree to focus on reliable primary sources rather than print sources.

  13. Great thought provoking post Bud. This post has made me comtemplate and question student research methods currrently in place in our school district. My thoughts do not completely mesh with yours, though. I disagree that the encyclopedia is not a viable source for high school research. I believe all research should begin with an encyclopedic search of some kind whether it be on-line or traditional print resources. This brings up another point-print is dead. I don’t believe this to be the case. Based on the books I see come through Media Services for cataloging, print resources are being purchased for research purposes at a high volume. I do agree that the medium should not be assigned for the sake of using a certain medium. It should be assigned to provide students an opportunity to examine a variety of venues and formats for research and inquiry. Some print( I prefer the word “traditional”) resources are primary sources and may not be available in an on-line environment, but that does not make them any less valuable. Reading a book electronically is still reading a book. Teachers should and my experience are assigning required sources exactly the way you recommend they do-not based on whether is paper or electronic, but based on the information they expect students to glean from those specific types of sources.
    .-= Holli Buchter´s last blog ..The Tech Savvy Booktalker: A guide for 21st-Century Educators =-.

  14. Nathan M says:

    This is a great post. Actual print resources are slowly fading and everything is turning to an online database. The students of today, are not learning how to use “print resources” but are rather utilizing electronic search bases where numerous amounts of resources can be found in one click.

  15. Jenny says:

    As a fifth grade teacher I’ve pondered this same topic. During our collaborative planning sessions with grade level teachers, the librarian, and technology teacher we’ve had interesting discussions regarding the resources we want students to know how access and use. The line separating a print source from a non print source has become increasingly gray. However, as we instruct students on how to access relevant traditional print sources such as books in our library and online sources an additional problem that keeps arising is that our students don’t know how to determine if a source is credible. Not only do students need to know how to access types of information, they need to learn how to determine if the source is a reliable source. I think defining requirements as primary and secondary may help to solidify the black line separating types of sources, but we can’t simply stop there. Students need to learn how to analyze sources to determine reliability.
    .-= Jenny ´s last blog ..Week 3 Thing 7 =-.

  16. Jeri Hurd says:

    Well, yes and no.

    I think it’s the terminology that’s dead, not the concept. When we, as educators, require two print sources ( or however many), what we mean is non-digitized texts. And we require that because reading a physical book is a very different experience from reading online, and even a different thought process.

    Now, personally, I’m not one of those people who think reading an actual book is better. That’s a long-standing argument at our school. I DO believe students need both experiences.

    Thus, the requirement might be better phrased as “digital v. non-digital.”

    BTW: At our school, we tell students 15 sources, and 7 of them have to be primary. Digital or not isn’t even a factor.

  17. coach says:

    I just came across your blog. Excellent post!

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