I’ve been thinking a great deal about how my research habits have changed over the past 10 years. During my secondary school and undergrad days, I completed most of my research projects by going to an actual library, checking out hardcopy texts, and using the one journal database subscription purchased by my school. Research was something I conducted only when I was assigned a research paper. It was never self-directed or self-initiated.
Clearly, research has changed in the short time since I was in school.
I’m not a nonfiction type of person. If you looked at my bookshelf, you’d see novel after novel. One small shelf is dedicated to a few nonfiction books. Most of those books were assigned readings by a professor or administrator, or are informational books I thought sounded interesting, but never actually finished reading. I just don’t have the patience or attention span to read entire nonfiction books unless I’m required to do so. But the internet makes informational text accessible to my learning style. I can skip from page to page, following my interests. I can also quickly come back to a page if later on I realize that I need it, or if my interests change. With a hardcopy text, it can be difficult and time consuming to find the specific information you need or want.
Because of the choice I’m allowed on the internet, I conduct informal research on a regular basis nowadays—without having to be told to do so. Through my RSS aggregator, research that I’m interested in reading is delivered right to my doorstep. I find myself reading far more than I ever did before, often following links in a direction I hadn’t originally planned, but am suddenly intrigued to learn more about. I can read the most current thoughts, concerns, and research findings of the top educational minds in the world, as well as teachers similar to myself. Answers and inspiration are now at my fingertips.
I’ve found one problem with digital age research, though.
As a result, sometimes I find myself being too hard on myself. Teaching is a complex process, and good teachers are constantly reflecting upon and refining their craft. But, I have to remember to give myself (and others!) time to grow, and not become overwhelmed by the tools and strategies that other great teachers are using. Sometimes, our small steps are really bigger than we see them to be in the moment, and as long as we're still moving forward (in the right direction), being overly critical of ourselves and others is counterproductive for the students and the school climate as a whole.