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Using the internet as a study resource

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Perhaps the greatest attribute of the internet is its potential as a study tool. Those who have never known a world without the internet would probably baulk at the idea of having to hunt through plies of textbooks for a piece of information. With the ubiquity of the internet such page turning endeavours are almost a thing of the past. The sheer amount of data online is just staggering. In 2021 it was estimated that the indexed internet contained the same amount of text as 4.5 billion standard book pages - around 10 trillion words. With the average book containing around 500 words per page, binding the entire text of the internet together would result in a book of around 36 billion pages.

The rapidity with which authoritative and instructive information can be obtained over the internet may be taken for granted. With so much just a few clicks and keystrokes away we have grown complacent to having instant access to just about whatever content we are looking for. Not that long ago things were very different: scholars undertaking research projects would have to travel a considerable distance - even hundreds of miles - in order to peruse certain documents to help with their studies. University libraries were - and remain - a vital repository of information, not least because important literary and scientific figures have, and continue to bequeath their manuscripts to a certain institution, on the understanding they would be well cared for, and made available to individuals wishing to study them. The papers of Samuel Johnson - the great eighteenth century writer - currently reside in Yale university, while Thomas Jefferson left his papers to the university of Virginia.

Through the use of the internet so many historical documents - scanned or photographed to optimise legibility - are now readily available. Biographers or researchers no longer need to travel to peruse their bequeathed manuscripts, though they may need to write to the university in order to be granted permission to view them.

Of course there is an abundance of information more readily to hand. The great resource wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia, which is continually being updated by volunteers from around the world. Its total number of pages now exceeds 60 million, with around 14,000 articles being added every month.

Despite the wealth of scholarly information available on wikipedia, one should be cautious when using it as an all-purpose encyclopaedia. Anyone can edit a wikipedia page, a feature crucial to both its breadth and scope; but despite diligent administrators prowling the site for errors, many will certainly remain. You should pay close attention to the references at the bottom of each page, which list the sources for certain pieces of information in the article. These citations provide verification, and can be taken to substantiate their corresponding quotes or statements, though one should certainly follow the links and investigate the credibility of the sources.

There is also a wealth of video resources online, but again one should be guarded against taking the proclamations of any YouTuber, even one with thousands of subscribers, as gospel truth. As always one should question where the host is getting their information from, and if they are not disclosing their sources one should keep an open mind as to the plausibility of the content.

Many universities have uploaded entire lecture courses, allowing students from anywhere in the world to view classes from such such venerable institutions as Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard. Covering a range of subjects, from the arts to the sciences, these videos can be a treasure trove of didactic content. Many schools and colleges will offer the same service, enabling students to augment their learning with different approaches to the subject.

The internet can be accessed virtually anywhere, which means students are free to study in a variety of locations. Many students may find they are able to study more effectively outdoors, finding the environment of nature and the open skies more conducive to learning than the cloistered confines of the classroom. Many are of the opinion that outdoor education enhances problem solving skills, helps keep students alert and attentive, and can enable then to overcome learning struggles by viewing pre-existing problems from alternate viewpoints.

The internet also enables consultation and collaboration with one`s peers and teachers. Assignments and study materials can be easily distributed and gathered, while students can benefit from online discussions. Video communication platforms like Zoom and Skype allow home schooled pupils to stay connected with their schools, reducing any feelings of isolation they might otherwise be experiencing. Online lessons through such sites as Tutor Hunt allow students from anywhere in the world to have access to one to one tuition.

Its clear the internet is an excellent source of information, and has the potential to be a fantastic study aid. Care must be taken though to evaluate the credibility of online sources. Many sites will have a biased view on certain subjects, and fail to present a balanced opinion. One should also consider how up to date information is online. When conducting research by studying books, it would immediately be apparent if they were many decades old - and while this might not necessarily impact upon the accuracy of the information therein, information on subjects such as the sciences or world affairs may have changed markedly since the book was published.

When studying online the age of the content may not be so easy to ascertain. Out of date information will be rendered just as bright and clearly, and a student could easily mistake redundant or superseded content as being current and valid.

55 days ago
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