When writing my previous two blogs (which can be found here and here), I entered the research phase with my mind already made up. I read the articles and watched the videos, picked out the facts that coincided most with my way line of thinking and proceeded to write my article. However for today’s post, I still don’t know whether I agree or disagree with the assertion that anything that can be googled should not be taught. I believe a large credit for this self-doubt comes from the excellent job of the debaters, who combined insightful debates with intriguing readings. So the purpose of this blog post is my journey to reach a conclusion, and you the reader? You’re welcome to come along for the ride.
When faced with a question I’m unsure about, I turned to the experts. The first article I read was by Terry Heick, who lays some of the blame on the teachers. He states that Google “creates the illusion that answers are always within reach even when they’re not. In fact, if users can Google answers to the questions they’re given, they’re likely terrible questions.” This line of teacher questions was absolutely the way schools have operated in the recent past and some continue to up to this day. However, if students today are presented with an assignment that can be quickly completed through Google, they are most likely to take that path. Although, that path is not without its pitfalls, as the following article states. It argues that “Google has become our external hard drive” and references a study that college students remembered less information when they thought they could easily access it later. At this point, I believe that we as teachers need to change the types of questions we are asking. We have to accept the fact that asking students to read their textbooks to find the start of World War II is nonsensical when they can find the answer in 1.5 seconds on their phones. We need to progress more into a critical type of thinking.
If the argument is that we need to move past questions that students can google, to a more critical and creative level of thinking, then we need to define what exactly is the critical thinking we are looking for? Here are some examples from teachers. Kim Devaney states that critical thinking is “being able and willing to examine all sides of an issue or topic… exploring the consequences or effects of any decision or action it is possible to take.” Another interesting take comes from Malinda McCuiston who states that “critical thinking is wondering about that which is not obvious, questioning in a precise manner to find the essence of truth and evaluating with an open mind.” I believe that statement encapsulates perfectly where we need to get to as teachers. We need to develop questions that cannot be answered in Google. We need to allow students to use Google to learn the basic facts of a situation and then present them with a scenario where they can combine these facts with their own base of knowledge and their learned perspective from the teacher. Because if we are to continue teaching simplistic lessons and assignments that can be completed using a device without any critical thinking, then the job of the teacher is essentially obsolete. So we as teachers must adapt in order to survive.
The final aspect we need to discuss is the role of memorization in the classroom. For some, this has become a dirty word that is unnecessary in the technological “Google” world. However, there certainly some facts to consider when discussing the efficacy of memorization. As Ben Johnson states, “the brain is a learning tool. This might seem obvious, but the brain is not a passive sponge. It requires active effort to retain information in short-term memory and even more effort to get it into long-term memory.” As well, he states, “the total emphasis on critical thinking has it all wrong: Before students can think critically, they need to have something to think about in their brains.” These are both important points and speak to the basis of learning as a whole. Johnson believes, and I agree as well, that learning is a process oriented exercise where the journey is more important than the destination. In order to have our students appreciate learning, they need to have opportunities to work at it. They must be pushed to achieve excellence outside of their comfort zone, rather than just relying on their phone to give the answers to them. My final points come from Dr. William Klemm who states that “The Internet is flooded with error, propaganda, and un-vetted assertions” and “Memorization provides exercise for the mind.” Both of these excellent points must be considered when discussing whether or not students should be made to memorize concepts. Students need to learn that not everything that they Google will be correct, and that the Internet is filled with more incorrect information than good. As well, he speaks about the need to provide practice for your brain. I am reminded of a story that I was told by Kelsie Lenihan’s husband, Nathan Birrell (a colleague of mine at LeBoldus). When working with math formulas with his grade 9 class, they inevitably asked him, “When will we use this in real life?” His response was simple and effective. He asked if there were any athletes or dancers in the class. After the students raised their hands, he asked them when they are training for their activities, why do they do jumping jacks or push-ups? After all, they don’t use those motions when playing their sport/dance. They responded that those activities trained their bodies and he interjected to say this is exactly what they were doing with the math formulas. The math formulas were a training for their mind. And this is where I will end, technology allows us to reach unprecedented levels in our classrooms, yet we cannot forget that we also need to train those minds to receive the information. We must push our students out of their comfort zones in order for them to appreciate the wealth of knowledge at their fingertips.