Should Schools Teach It If You Can Simply Google It?
Google. Bing. Ask Jeeves. The internet has brought with it endless amounts of information that is readily available to whomever wishes to search for it. When I initially saw this debate topic I was confident in my stance. Why should we bother making students memorize facts when they have a plethora of information literally at their fingertips? It seemed pretty straightforward. The world-wide web offers student not only the answers to all their questions, but often many different outlooks and opinions for them to consider, right? What is the point of teaching the facts when students can simply ‘google’ it?
The role of the teacher is changing. Teachers used to be thought of as the keepers of knowledge, the walking encyclopedias, or a student’s informational guide to learning. Today, the teacher is more of a facilitator in the learning process. Many times, we are learning along with our students and guiding them toward their own truths and understandings. Instead of standing at the front of the classroom lecturing from a standardized textbook, I am teaching my students skills to find, evaluate, and interpret their own knowledge. The following video speaks to this shift and offers some suggestions about how the role of the teacher has changed.
If the teacher is an “experienced learner”, then it is the teacher’s role to lead and guide the students toward the best ways to learn. Solely using textbooks would not be the best way to learn in the 21st century. Textbooks offer students one perspective and students often take that one perspective to be the be-all-end-all one truth. The internet offers students a chance to look at multiple ideas and perspectives. It also teaches students to look at those different perspectives and ideas and then use their critical thinking skills to choose the best, most reliable resource. Instead of avoiding the internet and all of its’ opportunities, I believe it is important to use it as a chance to teach students to search for the best. If we, as teachers, are expected to prepare our students for the future, don’t you think we should be teaching them to be critical about what they read online and to select the best sources? In his article “How to sharpen students’ critical thinking skills online“, Dr. Ian Jamison suggests teaching students three strategies to help them evaluate their resources and select the best possible information. By having students cross-reference the information, look out for warnings (or red flags), and use a mnemonic device called RAVEN, they will learn critical skills that will stay with them well into their adult-hood and prepare them for the ever evolving World Wide Web.
Besides teaching students how to tredge through all the sources and information online, it is important to also teach students how to do a proper search. I know, from working with middle-years students, they often expect to type in a question and have their first result provide all their answers. They get frustrated when they need to refine their search, or look through several different websites before finding the information they are looking for. Many students lack the skills and know-how to complete a proper web search. For example, including quotation marks (“) around a phrase will search for that specific phrase, and including a minus sign (-) next to a word will remove that specific word from your search. These are all tips that when taught and reinforced prove to be beneficial to students. This is something that is worth memorizing!
That brings me to my next point. MEMORIZATION. Are we really setting our students up for a successful future having them memorize everything? Patricia Abrihan presents an interesting argument where she states “when we train students to just memorize, we are not teaching them how to think. Rather, we are training them to just be “responsive.”
When I was a student I remember needing to memorize information for a test. Our exams were primarily recall based. One instance I recall had us needing to name all 50 states and their capital cities. This exercise proved to be useless because I quickly forgot what I learned and in my adulthood I am easily able to search up these facts that were so important to be memorized earlier. Memorization is not an effective way to learn and retain information. There are exceptions of course. I do insist my students memorize their multiplication tables because this is something they will need and will continue to apply to their daily life for the rest of their lives. But having my students cram and memorize a series of facts does not seem like a good use of their time. I would rather have students learn and then form opinions about what they learn. For instance, I can teach my students about the colonization of Canada. I could have them memorize who all the early explorers were and what they did, OR I could teach the students about the colonization of Canada, have them research about the different explorers online and then have them report on their opinion about what the explorer did and whether it was beneficial to the settlement of Canada. This would have them learning about the explorers and applying their learning to form their own opinions.
This brings up another question worth debating. Do we allow our students open access to the internet? When students are asked to research on the internet, do they simply type Google.ca and away they go? I was shocked to learn that Google is not necessarily the best search engine to have students on. It will skew the search results and may not produce the best result first. I thank Alec for pointing out some alternatives that provide students a more accurate search. Engines such as duckduckgo provide students with a safer and more secure platform to search. Another option is Kiddle which provides sensored kid-friendly results for younger surfers. I admit, I was unaware of the privacy issues surrounding Google, and many of the more well-known search engines. I guess that is something that cannot be Googled!
In closing, I continue to stand by my belief that schools should not be focussed on teaching things that students can simply look up online. I do, however, believe that students need to be armed with the necessary tools to ensure they are not simply going online blindly and taking everything they read as facts. Teachers have an even larger role to play in this instance. Teachers need to not only teach their students these skills, but they need to monitor, check-in, and always remind their students to be responsible knowledge hunters. Teaching Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, and Digital Safety should all come before students are set loose on open searches for learning. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of allowing students access to different points of view, interpretations, and ideas. By being around these differences, students are able to form their own points of view, interpretations, and ideas, which in turn leads to a greater understanding of what they have learned.