APU Careers & Learning Online Learning

How Research Method Technologies Have Changed Over Time

changing-college-research-methodsBy Judith A. Jablonski, PhD, MSLIS, MA
Senior Online Librarian at American Public University

For most students, Google is the way to go for doing research. And while Google has its valid uses (even librarians will admit to that!), when it comes to university-level research, it is definitely not the best way.

Because we use smartphones, tablets, and ereaders, or play computer games, we tend to think of ourselves as being very technology-savvy. But having all of these electronic technologies doesn’t always mean we know how to find the information we need or know if the information we do find is okay to use in a college-level paper.

In a 2014 study of college freshmen, Nicolas Bauch and Christina Sheldon noted that “In an era increasingly characterized by smart phones, digital news feeds, and a palpable sense of “information overload,” a college student’s relationship with research has become at once more simplified and more complicated.” [1]

What is simpler for students doing research is that actual retrieval is a lot faster! Instead of slogging through print copies of subject bibliographies and then tracking down the print journals in library stacks, you can search directly via online databases. In many cases these online resources include the full text of the source. And at APU, when the source is not available, our Interlibrary Loan team can often retrieve the item in a matter of days.

Another shift in research technologies that makes doing research easier is the increasing role and use of mobile technology by library users and the libraries themselves. Students can take the APUS Library with them! [2] And with the extensive use of social media students can reach out to our librarians via text message, email, Facebook, and Twitter. [3]

One of the most striking changes in research technologies, and which makes doing research more complicated, is trying to find information using the World Wide Web, specifically on the open web and the deep web.

The terms open web and free web both refer to the part of the Internet that can be accessed for free using an Internet search engine like Google. For most of us, the open web has become our go-to place for finding information. Usually this works out just fine, particularly when you’re searching for things like song lyrics or recipes, shopping for clothes or concert tickets, or looking for news, weather, or current information about your favorite celebrities or the specs on Apple’s latest i-gadget. But when you’re doing research for a college course, searching the open web can be frustrating, since so many of the sources that come up in your results list are not appropriate for college-level research.

The deep web, which you might also hear referred to as the invisible web or the hidden web, includes content that search engines can’t find and/or require a subscription to access. Although the open web is a huge and constantly growing repository of material, the majority of online resources are actually deep web resources that you just can’t get to by doing a Google search. There are many different kinds of materials that are considered deep web resources, but as a student researcher, the ones that will be most useful to you are those provided to you by your library. As part of the deep web, APUS Library resources (like article databases and e-book catalogs) are not available to the world for free. To access them, you’ll have to first log on to the campus and then click to the library’s website. [4]

One thing hasn’t changed, though, the importance of librarians! In a 2014 Chicago Tribune article, Diane Foote, assistant dean of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science said “[the] access to a wealth of information on the Internet has placed even more importance on librarians….few other professionals are so specifically trained to access, analyze, share and manage all types of information.” [5]

Librarians can help you identify the right database to use, create effective search strategies, retrieve resources, and work with you to determine if the information you’ve found is accurate, objective, and current. The new research methods technologies can save you time. But whatever information technology you are using, working with librarians can make every moment count!


[1] Bauch, N., & Sheldon, C. (2014). Tacit information literacies in beginning college students: Research pedagogy in geography. Harvard Educational Review, 84(3), 403-423,427-428. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library.

[2] The APUS Library website is built with responsive design:  it will automatically adapt to your screen size, no matter what device you are using.  On mobile devices the site’s layout will be reconfigured for optimal display (with minor graphics removed), but all site features are fully functional.

[3] APU Library Social Media Accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube. The APUS Librarians can also be SMS/text-messaged at 3044006470.

[4] Learn more by visiting the APUS Library’s tutorials on Open Web Searching and Deep Web Searching.

[5] Foote, D. (2014). Google can’t compete with a skilled librarian steeped in information technology. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-201407250000–tms–careercarer-b20140725-20140725-story.html.

About the Author

Senior Online Librarian Dr. Judith Jablonski has more than 25 years of experience in special and academic library work; metadata management, and higher education instruction in the Social Sciences and the Humanities. She has taught online, onsite, and blended courses at the undergraduate and graduate level in the areas of information organization, database indexing, Freshman Composition, professional and academic writing, and science fiction and fantasy literature. She also serves as the Graduate Studies Librarian here at APUS.

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