"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Free stuff! Free stuff! Free stuff!

As a high school teacher I am frequently called upon -- formally and informally -- to support students writing research papers in other disciplines, especially the social sciences. One of the biggest challenges is teaching them how to identify and use the best possible sources, and especially how to track back as far as possible to the source of a generally reported or accepted conclusion. That is, not necessarily a primary source, which is rarely absolutely necessary, or even desirable in a 1500 word student paper, but perhaps the academic paper which first reported the material or provided an influential early interpretation of the material, which has guided subsequent research and discussion on the topic.

So we go through all our searches and we find the right combination of search terms to find what we want and cast aside the irrelevancy and there it is--we find Exactly The Right Source. And the URL indicates it is at JSTOR, a wonderful online source of a variety of academic journals, but one which is subscription-based. In fact, I don't believe JSTOR even offers single articles. You have to be attached to a big institution which can afford the big subscription fee to get at all that good stuff, and that does not apply to most public high schools.

However, a brilliant friend of mine, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago (who just happens to be my future daughter-in-law), having heard my bellyaching about this at Thanksgiving has sent me this link to the Directory of Open Access Journals. Here's the headline:
This service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 5832 journals in the directory. Currently 2432 journals are searchable at article level. As of today 484097 articles are included in the DOAJ service.
I haven't had a chance to use it yet -- the next batch of papers will be in the second semester, but a quick browse through shows it is pretty amazing. Most of it is way above the needs, and perhaps the reading ability of most of our high school students. But it is important to teach students that new information and ideas do not come from Newsweek or TMZ, but often from peer-reviewed academic journals, and that is better to source the journal itself than US News and World Report's digest of it.

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