Naturally, your local librarian may have a bone to pick with Google regarding what constitutes a "scholarly source" but in general this includes peer reviewed journals, university publications, some trade journals, and occasionally trade magazines (like T.H.E., Technology Horizons in Education, for instance). You can read about the inclusion criteria (for webmasters) to learn more.
Many sources are available full text in one click from Google. Others can be accessed in full text with a few clicks through to the original web-based sources, such as ERIC. Some, though, are still locked up in paid databases such as JSTOR. Still, I've found it easier to locate these sources with Google Scholar and then check to see if the university has access to those specific articles... and Google Scholar now offers Library Links to give you easy access to documents that you have permission to view in your institution's library.
The "killer" feature of Google Scholar is this though...
If you've found an article that is directly relevant to what you're researching, writing about, or trying to decide in your school, how do you traditionally find more like it? You look in the back at the works cited, references, or bibliography. But, this vein of relevant materials only moves backward in time. If you find an article published in 2000, it will only reference articles published in the 90's or before. Wouldn't it be great if you could go the other way - forward through time?
Google Scholar let's you do just that with the "cited by" feature. So an article published in 2000 may've been cited 54 times since then, and by clicking on the "Cited by 54" link, you are presented with all 54 of those resources... and you can then click on the "cited by" links for each of those sources to see the works that have cited them since their publication date! You can now follow the vein of relevance forward in time to more timely resources - and even search for specific topics within the citing sources.
Yes. That is awesome. Especially for making meaningful research-based decisions in education. See why I like it?
Perhaps better yet, you can now have your own "24/7 research team" scouring scholarly articles... and emailing you whenever a new and relevant source is discovered. Just use Google Scholar Alerts.
Last year, Google also added Google Scholar Citations, a simple way to compute citation metrics and track them over time. For instance you can explore who has cited Albert Einstein's work over the years. If you're involved in scholarly research yourself, you can also click here and follow the instructions to start tracking citations of your own work. For example, you can view my Scholar profile to access a few documents of mine that appear in Google Scholar... sadly, it seems nobody has been citing my work, at least in a way Google can automagically track. ;)
The latest magic available from Scholar actually appears as a tool in Google Docs. While in a Doc, use the Tools menu to select "Research." The new research sidebar will appear to the left of your doc. Here is the key excerpt from the Research Tool help page:
Narrow your search results to only articles by selecting “Scholar” from the drop-down menu in the search bar. Once you have selected an article you’d like to read or reference, click on that entry in the search results. You will see a Web or PDF hyperlink in the upper left-hand corner of the entry that will take you to a web or PDF version of the article itself. You will see a Cited by hyperlink in the upper right-hand corner of the entry, showing how many times the article has been cited, that will direct you to the Google Scholar list of sources that have cited this article. Clicking on either of these links will open the result in another window.
At the top of the search results list, you will see an option to change the citation format. Click the drop-down menu and select from APA, Chicago or MLA. The search results below will change in format based on this choice.
If you'd like to learn more about Google Scholar, there are excellent FAQs and help files, and some advanced search tips. The Google Scholar Blog can also help keep you up to date with new features, new resources, and other changes, such as their new modern look.To insert an article citation into your document, select the article and click Cite.
You can also learn more in an exciting and inspirational face-to-face environment (with Googlers and Google Certified Teachers) by joining us at a Google Apps for Education Summit in your region.