Is Internet replacing hard copy books in academics?

Perhaps the best argument for the use of Internet-based research as opposed to published paper works is that the quality (of research depends on the researcher, not the gadgets. Collins Mwai writes that despite this, the influence of the Internet is both a joy and a source of headache in academics today;- Walking around Kigali Public Library in Kacyiru, a keen observer will notice that the stacks of books on the shelves have to compete with laptops, iPads and respective power cables. Books remain stacked neatly on the shelf as readers have a ‘faster’ source to acquire information and knowledge; the Internet. Welcome to the digital age that has gradually seen books replaced by hours behind computer and phone screens.
Youth use Internet at an ICT hub in Kigali. The Internet is the number one source of academic information today. The New Times/ File.
Youth use Internet at an ICT hub in Kigali. The Internet is the number one source of academic information today. The New Times/ File.

Perhaps the best argument for the use of Internet-based research as opposed to published paper works is that the quality (of research depends on the researcher, not the gadgets. Collins Mwai writes that despite this, the influence of the Internet is both a joy and a source of headache in academics today;-

Walking around Kigali Public Library in Kacyiru, a keen observer will notice that the stacks of books on the shelves have to compete with laptops, iPads and respective power cables. Books remain stacked neatly on the shelf as readers have a ‘faster’ source to acquire information and knowledge; the Internet. Welcome to the digital age that has gradually seen books replaced by hours behind computer and phone screens.

Previously, students spent hours flipping pages of books in pursuit of information, but a click on a link is not only saving them the time but also resources.

The Internet as a research medium offers fast and precise results and, hence the increasing popularity among students and some researchers.

But as the latest development seems to ease the learning and research processes, it has been numerously termed as a short cut that could cause one to overlook crucial information.

Dr Emmanuel Ahimana, the head of the Literature department at Kigali Institute of Education, says the use of the Internet for research has been on the rise because academic books can be difficult to find or come at a high cost. He also cites the difficulties students face when trying to access them as another factor that has pushed many to go online.

“The Internet provides a much sought solution to students who may not have access to well equipped libraries or students who are searching for the latest books which may not be available in local book stores. The system enables students to avoid lots of ‘unnecessary’ material since they state precisely what they are looking for during online research,” Dr Ahimana says.

But even with the benefits of the latest development, Dr Ahimana thinks the Internet as a source of information during research cannot be relied on solely. “When conducting a research, the role of books cannot be simply replaced by the Internet sources. The Internet should complement the content sourced from books. Research conducted online may not be correct since many are free to post all sorts of things,” he says.

Dr Ahimana, who claims he read more than 2,000 hard copy books when writing his thesis, says in most disciplines, books will remain an indispensable source of information as they heighten students’ knowledge in a way the Internet cannot.

“When a student goes through a book during research, he tends to collect a lot of information beyond what he is looking for that may prove useful eventually. Both can coexist with the Internet complementing the hard copy books,” the literati don says.

Some educationists contend that the Internet has fuelled academic fraud and laziness, especially in reference to plagiarism among researchers and students. Those who disagree are quick to point out that even with the Internet one still has to read just like it is the case with books.

Research and Development Coordinator at Mt Kenya University Butera Bazimya says the Internet is nothing short of a public library.

“The way we used books, journals and other hard copy materials is the way we should use the Internet to get access to data, information and knowledge,” Dr Bazimya argues.

He says the Internet acts as a quick source of information if you know where to look.

“It only makes it quicker to access information one is looking for if you know where to find it, just like in books. It doesn’t do the research for you; it doesn’t make it easier as most people assume, and it only summarises the findings.”

“There are many good articles on the Internet just as there is ‘junk.’ It is up to the researcher to verify the information therein. There are mechanisms to verify the authenticity of the information. On obtaining information students or researchers ought to reference the work to the source to avoid plagiarism,” Dr Bazimya says.

He says the Internet is not to blame for the quality of research.

“The quality of research depends on the researcher not the gadgets or technology used. We have more material, gadgets and technology but it would be wrong to assume things are any easier. Qualitative research depends on the person working on it.”

John Mgirane, a student at a local university, says most of the assignments given by facilitators can easily be tackled using Internet sources and use of books is only in rare cases.

“It is easy to work on assignments as you can find a lot of information on sites such as Wikipedia.”

On whether the Internet has made him academically ‘lazy’, Mgirane says he rarely uses books during research as it is time consuming and one has to go through lots of books which come off as boring to students.

“The Internet has made learning easy for most of us who don’t have much time. On Wikipedia you can find answers to almost anything. It is true that we spend less time going through books,” he says.

Despite the talk that the Internet has taken over as the chief source of information during research Oliver Karambizi the Outreach and Extension officer, Rwanda Library Services begs to differ.

“For most disciplines like social sciences, law, finance and administration, books are still heavily relied on. It is only in relatively new areas like web design, ICT related courses that don’t have much hard copy material where one is compelled to rely on the Internet,” Karambizi says.

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Joselyne Nyirabuntu, a marketer.

‘Definitely yes, I never read any book during my course works and research. All the research I did was on internet, the e-books give you a variety you know and most of them are free.’

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Doreen Ingabire, lawyer.

‘I think they complement each other although the Internet has proven to be more effective. This is because all information is online, you can even access the book in question online while the library bureaucracy slows you down. However, books are more accurate compared to the Internet as people may post wrong information on the web.’

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Jerome Uwiragiye, student.

We are in a dot-com era and the Internet is the way to go. I use the web for all my research, it’s fast and almost all the information is there. I still refer to books but on a very small scale.’

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Alain Joseph Mbarushimana, student.

‘I use both books and the Internet for my research, but sometimes you don’t get a specific book in the library and you are forced to hit the web. The Internet is better while doing research because it’s fast and you can easily identify your topic of interest as opposed to books.’

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John Charles Onaba
, English language mentor.

‘Definitely, the Internet is replacing books, all answers are online, and it’s just a matter of typing what you want and the answer will be there. Who wouldn’t want to use such quick means of accessing information?’

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Compiled by Sarah Kwihangana

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