Google in the classroom. What are you going to do about it?

SOURCE: GIPHY

We’re living in the future people. I mean, we don’t have the flying cars the Jetsons predicted, nor do we have that crazy machine from Total Recall where Arnold takes a virtual trip to planet Mars (and saves the day of course). And how can we forget… we definitely don’t have the hover board from Back to the Future 2, which is kind of a major bummer.

As if this wouldn’t be the COOLEST
SOURCE: GIPHY

But all tomfoolery aside, let’s be frank here, did we really think we would actually end up having some of the cool gadgets we all fantasized about? I mean, we can talk to anyone around the world… at any second of the day… from a hand-held device that fits in our pockets… all shot in crisp, High Definition video. That’s crazy! I mean, really, really impressive stuff! The crazier thing is, this isn’t even a new thing, it’s been around for years!

Technology has advanced so quickly in the past few decades that new kinds of challenges have started to emerge in our society. Whether it’s affecting our physical or mental wellbeing, creating new types of distractions in the classroom, or causing people to become addicted to social media; technology has had both negative and positive effects on society. Today, I will be focusing my attention on how education is being affected by modern-day resources and tools such as Google.

This past Tuesday we had a debate in our EC&I 830 class which asked the question: Schools should not be teaching anything that can be googled. I found the question to be quite interesting because I see the impact Google has had on my own classroom, especially when it comes to using online resources. If any of you have ever printed off a worksheet off the net for one of your classes, you may have ran into the ol’ “student-Googles-the-title-of-the-handout-and-finds-the-answer-key-on-the-exact-same-website-you-got-it-from” situation. I’ll admit, I was having a rough day, and I needed to buy some time to get my lesson ready, so I resorted to the 15-minute bell work assignment I found online. Now, whenever I’ve resorted to taking this route, it never really ends well. There’s a reason why I don’t do it, and there’s a reason why I have COMPLETELY changed the way I test my students’ knowledge. As for the worksheet incident, the kid found the document online, got all the answers, and shared it with the rest of the class. I mean, who’s to blame here? This is my fault. I really should have been prepared. Lesson learned.

Living in the future and all, does have its perks. Take this for example: Let’s say Dylan and Celeste are hanging out, talking about music and enjoying each other’s’ company. Celeste starts talking about this very awesome, obscure, female-fronted Brazilian punk band she saw when she was visiting Sao Paolo a couple of years ago. She hasn’t updated her IPhone in months, and unfortunately doesn’t have their demo tape on her ITunes playlist. She can’t remember the band name, and it’s just GRINDING HER GEARS!

Well… good thing we have Google. In the time Dylan was about to change the topic, Celeste had already Googled everything on her phone and had found the answer. “Anarchicks”. The band name is “Anarchicks”. Once again, Google saved the day… and the conversation!

We no longer live in a time of wonder. If we don’t have an answer to a question relating to obscure punk bands or particle physics, we can just type them up on our phones, and voila, the answer! Not only are we getting the answers, we’re getting answers to questions we haven’t even asked; we’re getting pictures, videos, interviews, articles, theories, critiques, how-to’s and how-don’ts. The amount of information that is available at our fingertips is mind-blowing. It’s almost as if we have a guidebook, or a “How-To” manual on life in our pockets. Tools such as Google can be blamed for a bunch of stuff, but we can’t really talk smack on them either. Let’s be real here, having access to almost any answer to almost any question you could ever imagine, in your pocket, IS PRETTY AMAZING.

Although this sounds incredible (and it really is), many people are beginning to question what this is going to start doing to us, as society becomes more and more dependent on technology. How is this changing our learning? Is this affecting our abilities to think critically? Are we only learning at a superficial level? Is memorizing information even THAT bad? Well, that’s what my classmates set out to find out in their debate.
Schools should not be teaching anything that can be googled?

On the agreeing side of the debate was Luke, Ashley and Andrew, Vs. the disagreeing side consisting of Amy and Heidi.
Here’s a list of resources (with annotation notes) from each team’s debate.

AGREE

1.How Google Impacts The Way Students Think
This brief article discusses three ways that using Google impacts the way students think. It looks at how our thinking and learning is impacted when we see information as always accessible and knowledge as searchable.

2.How the Internet is Changing Your Brain
A short yet informative video discussing how our use of the internet is actually changing the way our brain works. What happens to our brain when we are constantly sorting and skimming through the abundance of information we find on the web? You can watch the video, or read the transcript that is provided.

3.What Critical Thinking Means to Me: Teachers’ Own Formulations
In a world in which information flows at an ever increasing rate, it is important to engage students in the examination of how we think. The ways in which we interpret, synthesize and make meaning of ideas are crucial in the quest for deeper learning. This reading explores the ideas that teachers’ themselves have about critical thinking and it’s role in education. To move students beyond surface level knowledge is critical if we are seeking to prepare them to be engaged and capable members of our society.

4. Three Rules to Spark Learning
When needing open heart surgery, Ramsey Musallam felt at ease due to the confidence his surgeon possessed. When asked where this confidence came from, the surgeon professed three simple rules which Ramsey Musallam has taken forth into his classroom to spark learning. The central tenet is that curiosity comes first and drives learning. Ramsey claims that teachers need to be ‘cultivators of curiosity’ and to embrace the mess that comes with this type of learning.

DISAGREE

1. When Rote Learning Makes Sense
This article discusses the benefits of memorizing information, as well as how to make memorizing fun and enjoyable for students. It outlines strategies that teachers use to help students remember. It suggests that once students know how to memorize and learn they can learn anything. The article also makes reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

2.Memorization is Not a Dirty Word
This article suggests that many students do not know how to properly memorize facts. It outlines how memorizing information benefits the learner in multiple ways. Samuel Arbesman, The Half-Life of Facts theory is also challenged with some valuable points.

3. Why teach facts to the level of automaticity?
This video argues that we should teach math facts to automaticity as it improves students ability to learn new material. When math facts are learned students are able solve more complex problems that require a higher level of thinking. This video also describes the difference between accuracy, fluency, and automaticity as it relates to learning math facts.

4.Link to video

So what’s my take on all of this?

The different angles that come out of this debate are rather interesting. For example, some argue that when kids have access to all of this information, the need for memorizing facts is becoming less and less necessary. That’s great and all, but on the flip side, having such easy access to all of this information is making us sort of… for lack of a better word… lazy? We’re seeing that kids are searching for the things that they think they need, but they aren’t always checking for the validity or quality of their sources. One quick search on Google may yield some great results, but sometimes we need to dig a little deeper. When we don’t pay attention to these small details, we have no idea what kind of information we’re going to be finding. Think about all the Facebook click-bait “articles” that constantly get re-shared and passed off as genuine information… I mean, that can’t be good. Have you read some of those articles? The writing alone should scare you! It almost feels like a game of “telephone” gone wrong. It’s like passing around rumors: it never ends well, and the truth always gets distorted.

Google has become the “quick fix” to our problems. There’s a reason why people say “just Google it”. In the same way I made the mistake of printing off worksheets to keep my class busy; kids are using Google simply to finish the assignment, to move onto the next project they need to finish. But what are they really learning? What are they accomplishing? WHAT AM I EVEN ACCOMPLISHING by doing things like that in my classroom!? We’re both misusing the real potential of having access to so much information at our fingertips.

Perhaps, it’s the way we are using this information that needs to change now. Now that information is readily available, maybe we need to put more value in how our students apply this knowledge. Let’s rewind back to 1997. I must have been in grade 5. Back then, I couldn’t just Google information for my projects. I distinctly remember having to get a ride to the library, actually find the books I needed, take notes, and sometimes, just SOMETIMES, I got to photocopy some of the pages I would need. I would have to write down my citation notes for my bibliography, and I would have to make sure I got everything I needed before going back home. I remember spending hours with my mom or dad looking for all the things I needed. What was the end result? Well, for one, being a French Immersion student meant that French resources were scarce, so finding information meant finding it in English first. So this meant that I would first have to read all my resources and attempt to translate it as best as I could. Computers were obviously not as common back then, but even if that was the case, our teacher actually MADE us write everything by hand. So there was no typing and no printing off information. We would do several rough drafts before moving onto our final, GOOD COPY. Doing things by hand meant I was re-writing, re-processing my information SEVERAL times. Out of all the projects I did between 1997 and 2000, I remember them ALL quite well. I think the answer is obvious as to why this is the case. I mean, I spent a significant amount of time re-processing my findings. I wasn’t just “finding” something online, reading it (or skimming it) ONCE, and bookmarking or printing it off for later. My “Google” back then (and same can be said about people my age and older), was the library. Having to physically get somewhere to find your information puts a whole different spin on getting your work done. I recall doing a project about the North West Territories in grade 6. I still remember how stressed I was because I couldn’t find ANYTHING for my project. My mom and I had to actually call the North West Territories Tourism board about having them MAIL me information about the territory. It took two weeks to get the information package. TWO weeks. But hey… you know what? I STILL know a lot about the North West Territories. I even STILL have the project.

Yup, I actually FOUND IT!
Yup, I actually FOUND IT!

I think both sides of the argument have extremely valid points. For one, being able to search anything, eliminates the need to actually learn facts. Although this is quite convenient, is this a good thing? Acquiring knowledge so quickly may come useful in the heat of the moment, but are we really learning anything by looking things up? To me, this almost seems like the whole “cramming-the-night-before-the-final-exam” thing. Yeah, if we cram enough, we can retain the information long enough to regurgitate it for the exam; but how much of that information is really going to stick with you? Some people will fare better than others, but overall, this isn’t an effective technique to encourage any form of critical thinking or deeper learning.

Then comes the bigger question: shouldn’t we be able to apply our knowledge and learnings once we’ve acquired them, in useful and dynamic ways? Isn’t THAT a true sign of deeper learning? Unless we teach our students how to use information retrieved off the internet, we’re going to get exactly what you think you we’re going to get. I’ve had to spend weeks teaching my students how to actually make sense of the information they research for assignments. Students are often convinced that simply finding the information online, copying and pasting it onto a Google Doc, and printing it off, is how we complete our assignments. Grade 5 me would have no idea what to even say to kids these days. Since I have a grade 5/6 classroom of my own, I find that it’s absolutely necessary to scaffold every step of the assignments that you do with them, including how to use information once we’ve found it. If I hand them a computer and expect them to paraphrase, reword, and process the information that they researched into some sort of critique, I’d be kidding myself. These are giant processes that need to be demonstrated step-by-step. Again, we need to adjust to these changes.

A lot of the arguments in these articles say that that’s the problem with information banks such as Google. Although we’re finding the “answers”, we’re not taking the time to process, analyze or actually understand the information.

Being that we live in a world where Google is simply a thing we all use, we can’t just ignore it. This is why I have changed my approaches in my classroom ever since I ran into the “students-googling-the-answers” incident. If I’m going to test my students, I need to get them thinking somehow. I think we can all agree that we’re all quite capable of Googling information if we need to find out about something. What I think we need to start doing now is acknowledging that kids will be doing this, and preparing projects that require students to have some sort of personal, critical and analytical input. This sounds so obvious, and many of you are probably looking at me wondering: Dude, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Yes, you’re right, this IS our job, but once again, this phenomena is a lot newer than we give it credit, this is still something we’re adjusting to. I want my students to start making sense of the information that they are finding. The second we begin to engage our students in critical thinking, whatever information their looking up, becomes increasingly more meaningful.

I’ve left loose ends here, but I don’t think the answer to this debate has a clear direction. If we’re looking at in in black and white, yeah, maybe we SHOULDN’t be teaching material we can Google, but we all know that that’s not how we’re supposed to be using these tools anyway. I seem to be coming to the same conclusions with all these debates, but I truly think we are running behind on the times.

Before I leave you, please let me know what you think about this issue. What sort of changes should we be making in order to make the best of these new technologies we have? Thanks for reading everyone, have a great week!

Dre

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4 thoughts on “Google in the classroom. What are you going to do about it?”

  1. Great post Dre. Your final question , “What sort of changes should we be making in order to make the best of these new technologies we have?” did make me think. In the end, I will reference the SAMR model for my response. If we are simply using Google in place of the library or an encyclopedia as a method of regurgitating facts about a subject, I feel this would fall in line with “Substitution” or perhaps “Augmentation”. To truly put the tech tools to good use, we need to look for ways to extend the learning, so that “Redefinition” or “Modification” takes place. A couple of years back I assisted a grade two class in taking part in a Flat Classroom: A Week in the Life project. According to the project website, “The aim of the project is to join Elementary School classrooms globally with a view to exploring what life is like in each country through discussion, sharing and collecting multimedia to create final products together.” Instead of just conducting research on a country, students engaged collaboratively with students across the world using a variety of technology tools. The students were excited and engaged and learned about parts of world from students their age who actually live there. If you are interested, here is a link to my original blog posting outlining the project: http://deanbenko.blogspot.ca/2013/09/flat-classroom-project-kickoff.html

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    1. I love this reply Dean. I’m quite intrigued by the project you did, I will definitely be giving this a good read. I’m also really happy you brought up the SAMR model, because it’s definitely something that we need to start looking at a lot more carefully in schools. Thanks for sharing!

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