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Computers continue to revolutionize how researchers, organizations corporations and students find information that they need and the process of change is accelerating.

Resources for research extend far beyond the traditional holdings of libraries, and even beyond informational World Wide Web sites, electronic journals and various internet databases. Newsgroups, electronic mailing lists, chat rooms and instant messaging have joined email as tools for collaborative research and for two way interactive research.

The internet's rapid two-way communication has facilitated direct communication with experts in ways not dreamed of before the computer became part of information retrieval. Discussion groups are an important example of the communication capabilities of the internet. Good discussion groups attract the membership of experts and specialists in their fields. They read the groups messages to keep up with what is being said by other members, making valuable comments and offering useful advice to others.

My experience with the
Diversity University Collaboratory, an electronic Mailing list
and the Educational CyberPlayGround, an Internet portal, illustrate this revolution of online-research opportunities.

I am a reference librarian at Temple University's Paley Library in Philadelphia. Several years ago I began posting messages to online discussion groups and selectively indexing the New York Times' technology related articles for an online publication. I started adding introductory comments to the articles that I indexed, summarized small selections of the articles' text and sent these brief news items to discussion groups. Soon after, Karen Ellis, called me. As owner of the Educational Cyberplayground and moderator of the Diversity University Collaboratory (DUC), Karen asked me to join her discussion group. I accepted the invitation, as her description correctly made this group sound too good to pass up. Then I waited until I read a substantial number of other people's posts to the group before contributing myself. One should have a feel for how a group communicates and what topics are most valued before jumping in and posting to the group.

Unlike many discussion groups that are topically focused and restricted, the DUC list proved to be a flexible discussion list that invites a broad range of interdisciplinary topical content and discussion. This was important to me because I like to post about a wide range of subjects since as a reference librarian, I work with most academic disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate university levels. My postings to DUC have included announcements of the New York Times' technology- related articles, as well as discussion of web site resources and of issues pertinent to the Internet, computers, technology and much more.

Karen must have liked some of my DUC posts because she asked me to become one of the “ringleaders” for the Educational CyberPlayGround. She included a web page as part of the Educational CyberPlayGround that contains biographical information about me and my articles about use of the internet for research. As a ringleader, I agreed to be available to answer e-mail querries about computer and internet research skills.

This was a major development in my career on the internet. I now have a permanent site for articles that I have written about database searching. An article that I have written for a forthcoming directory of graduate school programs in sport psychology has been on my Web site at the CyberPlayGround since January 2000, even though it will not be published in the directory until fall 2000. This article compares the internet with databases as a research tool.

As Karen saw particularly informative messages of mine to the DUC discussion group, she added this content to my Web page.

The DUC list has helped my name travel all over the United States and beyond, so I am no longer just known in my local place of employment and its immediate environment. The internet and discussion groups in particular, can be crucial forces in scaling the walls between institutions. They also can lead to relationships that do not have local geography as a circumference for those who learn to use them effectively as communication tools for their interests, values, beliefs and ideas.

My current relationship with the CyberPlayGround appears to be only the beginning. These learning tools will help to build individuals' online information gathering, research, and technology skills.

New York Times posts alone have been a tremendous training in building my skills at spotting the crucial stories of the day, reducing their content to indexing terms, and developing brief comments that highlight the article's significance, as well as being able to select the most informative brief excerpts from the article itself.

Educators and researchers need to be aware of important considerations in using the tools of the Internet interactively. First before communicating with a group, see what they are doing and see how your unique skills and abilities can mesh with the group to enhance your and the group's growth and knowledge.

Once you are ready to post, take the time to make sure that your post is contributing useful information in a quality, well-written manner. Posts are archived and may be reposted to other discussion groups. One does not want to say things that one will later regret. Those who post want to make quality contributions that will reflect well on them.

Spend as much time on the Internet as possible to learn about its tools and how to use them effectively. The Internet can be a valuable friend and teacher for educators at all levels, but failure to learn about and from the internet on one's own may make the educator's students into that educator's internet and technology instructors. To learn or practice professional roles without computer and Internet skills will become increasingly harder and harder.

Along with its ability to enable, facilitate, and invite networking and building of online relationships, the Internet is a tool of empowerment for teachers, students and parents. When used wisely as a serious communication and learning tool, it provides infinite pathways for building one's information, knowledge and skills. Databases, such as ERIC in the education field and Medline in medicine, are available free on the Internet, so one can practice and learn database skills. Search engines help open up the content of the World Wide Web. Web sites with content about almost any subject or discipline known to humankind are available, and these Web resources facilitate learning about these subjects.

Because Web sites range from high quality, containing good information of great importance, to those with pernicious, useless, and poor-quality presentations, the use of the Web can develop stronger abilities to evaluate and discriminate information to be used and trusted.

The Educational CyberPlayGround is a example of a high-quality information resource and teaching tool.

Also available at the Educational CyberPlayGround are resources for educators to learn how to make the best possible use of research tools that continue to be in transition.

Over the past 30 years we've seen research tools evolve from printed indices, such as the Reader's Guide to Periodicals, and printed bibliographies, to bibliographic and full-text databases on CD-ROMs and on computer networks. We've seen the development of electronic search tools and electronic card catalogs.

These changes have required new skills and new approaches to research. The transition to the Internet is a major revolution in its own right that will change civilization in a multitude of ways. The Internet provides not only the engine of this change, but also the tools to deal with it, if we can learn how to use them effectively.

Communications to the author may be addressed to
David Dillard Reference Librarian
Paley Library
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
[ph] 215 - 204 - 4584

My articles available on the Educational CyberPlayGround include the following:

“Database Searching: Basic Techniques to Help Expedite Literature Reviews for Research Projects”

“Database Resources: Places to Find Business Information”

Computer and Information Skills for Sport” to be published in the sixth edition of the Directory of Graduate Programs in Applied Sport Psychology

March 13-17, 2001 Washington, DC
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