Using and abusing the Internet


Students often look to Sparknotes while reading their books for English class.

Kathleen Dooley, Lancer Express section editor

We have all done it. After reading 36 pages of Romeo and Juliet or The Scarlet Letter, without a clue who did what (or who did whom), we go against everything our teachers have told us, venturing onto study guide websites. Maybe a quiz awaits in English class the next day, or there are piles of study questions looming in the no-longer-so-distant future. Whatever the case, we have all done it.

Living in the internet age, it seems as though the sites are endless: SparkNotes, Shmoop, NovelGuide, BookRags, CliffsNotes, yada, yada, yada. Teachers are well aware of the ease of going online to look up information on the latest assignment or novel, and this is why students are so strictly discouraged from using things other than the actual book.

As our entire culture shifts away from the days of thread-bound books and dog-eared pages, students also shift away from challenging themselves with Shakespeare’s meticulously beautiful sonnets, or Hawthorne’s ridicule and analysis of another culture hidden within a piece of literature. More and more often, students write essays based off of a brief summary of themes and motifs found on the first page of a novel’s SparkNotes profile, instead of taking the time to struggle toward a meaningful understanding.

When you come down to it, even though these study guide sites may seem convenient to busy–or, more often, lazy–students, using them as a substitutes to diving into an assigned novel will only hurt you in the long run, and even more consistently, on that quiz tomorrow, or the easy points gained from completing the study guide questions while you read.

So what about those students who do actually try to read the book, but have a hard time keeping track of which way is up?

Well, in all honesty, in this situation, we don’t think SparkNotes is all that bad. It is time to draw a line of distinction between the use of these sites for an educational supplement and the abuse of these sites for an extra hour on Facebook.

Teachers give us challenging novels for a reason: not so we drown in their undecipherable meaning alone, but so together we can unravel things which will bring us a step further in understanding perspective, culture, and life.

And sometimes, that “life” that we are trying to figure out isn’t all that easy. Sometimes things simplydon’t click together, and meaning is lost within pages and pages of advanced words and sentence structures.

So then what?

In the past, and obviously still applicable to today is the reliable study group. Calling a friend, setting up a time to meet with others from class or simply going in to talk to your teacher are all valid ways to get some help; however, with the internet at our disposal, why not use it to our advantage as well?

Teachers may be able to control the novels they assign, as well as the tests they write, but they can only hope students will work efficiently and passionately toward finding success in reading. As students become increasingly more likely to abuse study guide websites, and in turn increasingly more sneaky about not actually reading an assigned novel, teachers cannot control what the students do outside of the classroom.

We can only hope that the transformation of our internet society  doesn’t lead students to make poor decisions about how to make their ways though school, but stay motivated to achieve success the long way.