Since the advent of digital photography the studying of photography at college has had to adapt and change. Prior to digital when we all used to have use film it was difficult to do the basics such as make an exposure that was correct, focus the image so that it was sharp and make choices about what films to use. It would be the case that most people would shoot a roll of film and to be really brutal 30 of the 36 frames would be appallingly bad. So when you went on a course a significant part of the teaching and learning was around these basics. Therefore the other aspects of the course - visual language, historical context... the more academic components had a lesser significance.
Then 'Auto-focus' and digital came along and the whole thing got a lot easier. You only have to go on-line now and you'll find gazillions of images that are well-exposed and sharp, every numpty on the planet can now do what used to take some people a life-time to do. One of my students made the point...
"So that means all the crap that used to be hidden away in shoe boxes and family albums is now all over the internet... how on earth are we supposed to separate the two"?
Well, that's one of the things we aim to teach you - how to research properly and the bottom line is keep it simple and only source your photographers from journals such as the British Journal of Photography and books such as Photography The Whole Story - (Juliet Hacking and David Campany).
Things have changed...
So now when you're at college, one of the key things you need to do alongside learning how to make pictures is learn about photographers... Study photographers and Photography. Why are images made, what purpose do they serve, how do they communicate to their audience, who is their audience, how is visual language used to communicate the message and how do we generate ideas and concepts to produce something that is fresh, new and informed.
So at the end of the course one aspect of your learning is that you should be able to confidently speak about your images explaining what and who they are influenced by, and how you use visual language to communicate the message within your image/s. Your images unlike all the millions on Google images will be about something rather than of something your images will be rich in content and informed by the work of others.
The way this is done is through the study of other significant photographers and your first port of call for such study to be affective is journals such as the British Journal of Photography or Hotshoe. You are strongly advised to subscribe to the BJP whilst on the course and use it as the starting point of your research and studies. Make sure you compile bibliographies of your sources and include books and journals.