I was reading a post on the CNET blog by Amy Tiemann where she tells a story about writing a research paper on some obscure topic in high school: the difficulty in finding 5 "required" resources, using a card catalog, and typing the report on an electric typewriter... boy can I relate! And now, of course, with the Internet, one can find THOUSANDS of resources with any search engine in a fraction of a second.
This reminded me of the first time I truly realized the power of the Internet. My son, currently in college, was in the 3rd or 4th grade at the time and he was assigned the topic of "Ancient Egyptian Agriculture." We had made a trip to the local public library, but had found very little information-- just the usual "broad strokes" and generalities. I don't even think Google was around yet in 1994 or 95, but I remember using a search engine to help my son with his project. One resource in particular was from a professor at a university in Illinois, if I remember correctly, that even had illustrations and diagrams. JACKPOT! Then we had to figure out how to cite the resource for the bibliography, back before OttoBib, Noodle Tools, or Citation Machine. The website was just static information-- text and pictures-- but it was one of those obscure moments that I still remember because it was like a great discovery.
Back in the day when I went to the school library to find a book on a particular topic, I crossed my fingers that someone else had not beat me to it. It's tough to do a report on ancient Rome when the R volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica is missing! Today students have the opposite problem-- TOO MUCH information. They have to know how to separate the good from the bad, the fair from the biased, the reliable from the questionable resources. Amy Tiemann sums it up nicely: "Whatever quality control issues the web may have, it's good to remember that it is a luxury to be able to analyze information for its quality and relevance, rather than hunt for facts like a needle in a haystack."