I participated in a debate this past week regarding whether we should be teaching anything that can simply be googled or not. I had to argue that we shouldn’t be, but I believe in a balanced approach. I think there is a place for basic knowledge and understanding, and certainly a place for skills and experiences. Luke mentions in ‘Let me Google that for You‘, how Amy brought up the notion that it’s imperative we teach the alphabet to our children, a very googleable item so that they can acquire the skill of communicating through reading and writing. Skills and basic googleable facts seem to go together like peas and carrots. If we have the knowledge but cannot apply it in a skillful way, we end up with a situation like we see in the Big Bang Theory…
Skills have always been important. Whether it’s the skills to plant crops, to build a house, fix a car, there has always been a need for people to have the skill to do something, and you need to actually experience these things in order to be successful at them. You can read a book about farming, or you can be told how to fix an internal combustion engine, but until you actually do those things, and do them over and over and over, you will not be very good at them! Jeremy’s blog ‘Just Google It?’ references the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. With that number, students don’t have a chance of mastering skills in school, but we can at least give them the opportunities to begin to develop these skills and give them confidence so that they can continue their development outside of school.
When I look at our parents generation, a lot more of them seem to have the skills and abilities to do things like fix plumbing, landscape a yard, build some cabinets, etc. A lot of them grew up on farms, and they learned when they were young how to actually do things. It seems that the younger generation, and I include myself in there as well, hit adulthood lacking a lot of these skills that previous generations had. Maybe it’s the transition from a more labour based economy to an informational one, but this new informational economy is going to require skills as well, but different types of skills. The NCTE identifies these 21st century skills which include items such as managing multiple streams of information and evaluating multimedia texts. In our age of googleable information, it’s not finding the information that’s important, but evaluating, assessing, and synthesizing that becomes more important. We need to switch our focus from simply retrieving information from google, to doing so with judgement. It’s not a googleable fact to be a critical thinker or to evaluate claims with scrutiny. We need to teach our students this skill, as it will be an important one as the quantity of information increases, but not necessarily the quality. I use these twenty tips for assessing scientific claims with my students to help them gain the skill of assessing validity of claims. And yes, I’m aware you can google these tips, but they are simply tips! We need to provide the opportunities for our students to apply this skill and guide them through this process!
It used to be that we relied on our parents and teachers, for the most part, to be our sources of all knowledge. The dawn of the world wide web changed that, particularly with the genesis of google. Now the vast majority of citizens have all the world’s knowledge (and a lot of stuff I wouldn’t deem as knowledge) available to them, one click away. We seem to be in this transitional period where everything is changing, often times at exponential rates. Job descriptions are changing, new jobs are being created, and the skill sets needed for these jobs are ever evolving, but the skills needed for these jobs tend to revolve around problem solving, critical thinking, etc. Schools, for the most part, have struggled to keep up with this transition. Too often we are falling into old habits and preparing students for an obsolete economy and failing to provide useful skills and experiences needed for the future.
That being said, I strongly believe that direct instruction for key concepts and basic knowledge is imperative. When Rote Learning Makes Sense points out that before students can think critically they have to have a basic understanding of the topic. I would be extremely disappointed if the basic understanding I have of so many things were to be taken away from me. I am able to have conversations with a variety of people and the fact that I know things without having to look them up on google allows me to have meaningful conversations, understand references, and just simply feel like I have an understanding of the way things are. Memorization is Not a Dirty Word points out that there are some facts that are not subject to change, and so knowing these facts are important for daily life and to be an expert in any particular field requires some understanding of these basic facts. John Green compares education to cartography, and how learning something puts a new place on your map and when you explore that place, you want to explore a little bit further, and a little bit further. He also discusses that our map doesn’t necessarily tell us where we will go, but we only go to places on our map and so the more we learn, the more we add to our map, we open up possibilities for our life path that we may not have known about or pursued if we didn’t know these things.
I think this closely connects with the Ted Talk by Ramsey Musallam who emphasizes that curiosity should be our first priority when teaching. If we can instill curiosity in our students, that curiosity will drive them to be what I’ll call educational explorers. In order to explore I believe we need a map of basic knowledge, but we also need those skills to navigate that can only come about through experiences.
And so as teachers, we need to keep in mind that there is a place for direct instruction, facts, and knowledge that can come straight from google. But that is not enough to put our students on the frontiers. It won’t prepare them for the jobs of the future, it won’t instill that curiosity in them that is so important to be lifelong learners and continue to solve the problems we face.
Like Chilon said thousands of years ago…everything in moderation!
Live long and prosper