I find that, without question, the accessibility and growing collection of online data bases is the digital tool that has had the largest impact on my studies and more than likely will continue to do so, well into the future. I know it’s not the most original answer given that as a history student, I am expected and will be expected to find a multitude of sources to support anything academic I might write. Additionally, beyond first year, the resources available through Primo and the university library are simply not adequate to more expansive and specific research projects and essays of higher level courses. Students are required to continually look to new and different databases for sources and information.[i] As a student thinking about his potential future in academia, I can only assume that my familiarity with these databases and search engines will only increase as I delve deeper into research topics and papers. The uses of these online databases are not just limited to a student’s research but have also become an invaluable tool for professors. In the 2014 fall semester, I enrolled in the 4th year rural Canadian history class taught by Professor Catharine Wilson. This class had numerous assigned reading articles from many different digital databases including a couple of Professors Wilson’s own articles, one of which was hosted on Project Muse, a data base I was not overly familiar with.[ii] It was this particular reading that made me realize how vital such digital databases had become to teaching as they were now allowing professors to provide students with a multitude of resources without burdening students with the cost of additional physical texts. I don’t think I am alone in believing that this trend will continue well into my future either as a student in graduate studies or teachers college where physical texts are becoming more and more costly when compared to the digital alternative. I also think this trend will follow me to the potential career in teaching high school where access to databases provide teachers with far more resources than a traditional set of textbooks. An additional benefit of digital texts is the automated citation tools they provide. These automated citations are ever evolving, streamlining the citation process by allowing users to customize the citation in whatever style they desire.[iii] Such a convenient resource is an obvious asset in any future academic endeavor. There are so many other ways that digital tools have and will influence my academic career that I can’t possibly address them all in one post but suffice it to say the flexibility and growing availability of academic information is a key way digital tools are changing our learning and teaching practices.
[i] http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/ The University of Guelph library’s main page and the first of many databases available to Guelph students.
[ii] Catharine Anne Wilson. "A Manly Art: Plowing, Plowing Matches, and Rural Masculinity in Ontario, 1800–1930." The Canadian Historical Review 95, no. 2 (2014): 157-186. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 11, 2015).
[iii] Data bases such as Project Muse and JSTOR allow for users to request the citation in a particular style. See the side bar of the above listed text on project muse for an example.