My students seem increasingly confused by the difference between journal title vs. article title

Academics… does it bother you that the EBSCOhost “Cite” tool places its own name and a link to EBSCOhost into every every citation it generates? Students who uncritically copy-paste what the “Cite” tool spits out are filling their papers with advertisements.

Sometimes students will submit bibliography entries that repeat a title — either the journal or the article.  I assume they are using an online citation generator and I assume they’re not bothering to check its output.

What I had previously thought of as a random careless error now seems evidence of a paradigm shift. I’ve been teaching on the assumption that students are more familiar with the concept of a periodical that gains credibility by publishing themed (or at least chronologically grouped) issues over the years.

Not knowing the difference between a journal and an article in that journal would be like saying “The Kansas City Chiefs” is name of the quarterback for “The Kansas City Chiefs,” or not getting the difference between your car and the gas tank of your car.

My intention is not to complain about my students, but just to register this paradigm shift. It’s been 30 years since I’ve used a knife and hot wax to “cut” and “paste” text. A common icon for “save” is a floppy disk, which my undergraduates have probably never used.
It now seems like “volume” and “issue” even the whole concept of a “periodical” are legacy concepts that are losing their meaning in a streaming-based digital world.

One student said that as long as he could give the URL, he didn’t know why he needed to bother with including any of the other information in a citation. I need to be mindful of how my teaching must change in order to meet the needs of students whose everyday life experience trains them to think this way.

I’ve never before really taken the time to ask my freshmen why they think I’m bothering to ask them to cite their sources. I’m trying to pay closer attention to how their reliance on the EBSCOhost “Cite” feature makes it harder for them to grasp what I want them to learn about citation.

To do that, before I ask my students to assemble a bibliography citation, I first asked them to practice finding specific details. After they found some articles, I asked them basic questions like:

1. What database did you use? (“EBSCOhost is not specific enough.)
2. What is the title of the journal?
3. What is the title of the article?

My point is not to complain about the students. Three weeks into the term of course there’s plenty they need to learn, it’s my job to teach them, and this early assignment helps me to assess what they already know.

Even though prompt #1 repeated (yet again) my in-class warning that “EBSCOhost is not specific enough,” I still got answers that included “EBSCOhost.” Some students repeated the same text for #2 and #3, suggesting they don’t understand the difference between a journal title and an article title.

In the slot where I asked for the title of the journal, one student seems to have entered the keywords she searched for.

I’ve started saying that the journal title is like the name of a TV series. The article title is like the name of a specific episode in that series. A volume number is like which season, and the name of the database would be like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+.

I’m not sure that simile helps me get across the idea of “issue number,” but it’s a start.

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