I have been increasingly interested in how flat the world of research literature seems to appear to the average undergraduate student. I say "seems to appear" because I haven't actually talked to any students about this, so it's really just a wild theory. Here goes.
I think students who have only researched through their computer monitor have a very hard time understanding what they're looking at. Through the monitor, a page is a page is a page, whether it be from a scholarly journal, a book, Newsweek, a website, a chat window... There are almost none of the visual clues that are present in a more traditional physical piece of information that might make it easier to tell if you're about to use a scholarly publication or a piece of crap in your paper. If I've got a PDF from Academic Search Premier and I don't recognize the name of the publication and there are no ads on the page, surely it's scholarly, right? Sure, there are options in many library databases that will help a student limit to scholarly material, but I still think they don't get it conceptually at all.
And it's not their fault! Think about it; if you'd never seen a physical scholarly journal, having grown up in East Rubberboot Saskatchewan, what frame of reference would you have? You're told to access library resources through this magical screen, that also provides access to Google and Wikipedia, and hey, all these words on the screen kinda look like they come from the same place. Guess they all must be equal!
I was thinking about that when I saw a demo recently of one of the Gale InfoTrac products which, when viewed in IE but not Firefox, shows where on a physical page of a newspaper the article you've accessed appears. I like that! Kinda reminds me of what some of the handheld eBook readers do, which is attempt to show a representation of how many pages you are deep in a book, even though that's a fallacy for that particular product. But it gives the reader a frame of reference. I think that's missing from library web-based research, and aside from the image on the right, I'm not sure how this is best corrected.
Or I may be completely out to lunch. Any thoughts?