Ask questions in class that can be googled, without Google of course!

Often, again among educational circles on the internet, you hear the phrase / command to “stop asking questions whose answer can be found on Google.”  Firstly, I think implicit to that statement is a devaluing of factual knowledge that I have addressed https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/in-defense-of-facts/ where I argue that having factual knowledge is the basis of skills and is vastly different from having the ability to find factual knowledge, and in a corollary form https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/im-not-dead-i-think-ill-go-for-a-walk-said-the-expert/ ; however, a few things remain to be said:

I have often replied to individuals who advocate the above with: “can you give me an example?”  Mostly, the call is ignored but occasionally, an individual replies with a broad statement about asking students for opinions. To this, I’d respond 2 ways.  1) To have an opinion, you require facts; opinions are a response to a fact.  They need a base or are merely a pseudo-opinion that may mimic the syntax of an opinion, but are valueless.  Thus, you must at least start with facts (that can be googled) that are firmly understood in order to have an opinion.  2) Have you met the Internet?  One is tempted to say that the majority of statements on the internet are opinions or pseudo-opinions.  Why can’t a student copy / mimic an opinion as much as a factual statement?  I wait in earnest for someone to give me a question that can’t be googled but can be answered by my students.  The only think left is to create—are they advocating jumping to the top of the beloved Bloom’s Taxonomy each and every time with everybody?

Many skills are also an application of factual knowledge.  Are people suggesting we shouldn’t ask a student to demonstrate a serve in volleyball because we can look up how to do it on the internet?  Don’t paint a picture to demonstrate balance because you can just find one on the internet.  Don’t write a poem about beauty because Shakespeare’s been digitized. Don’t do any math question because you can find the answer on line.  Being critical or creative is an application of knowledge; many fine examples can be found on the internet, but surely there is value for students to do these independently.  Is it different with a content question in science? 

The organising of facts into a coherent answer is an application and a demonstration of mastery.  Like the above art examples, to have a student create an answer to a math or science question requires them to turn their understanding into the complex symbolic language of writing.  Even if it doesn’t involve opinion, it requires many skills, clarifies their thinking / understanding, and improves their understanding and memory for later application.

Implicit to the statement is also the assumption that it is better to seek information from the internet instead of class questions or discussions.  This is troubling for 2 reasons.  It is partial (at least) absurd, and it fails to appreciate the complexities of learning online.

It is partially absurd because it is such a generalization.  It has in its core, either the idea that information on the internet is always inherently better, or that learning this way is always inherently better.  Should students learn to speak from the internet?  Learn the letters and sounds?  Can they learn to turn the computer on from the internet-sure they can, but perhaps it would be less problematic to be told how to by a teacher, even if it can be googled.  I invite you to take a break now and go to Google.  Type in “how do i goo” and see the list of suggestions from instant search feature; don’t the suggestions hurt just a little?  There are many factual based content areas that are better learned from teachers or other interactions; how to share and why is sharing important are easily googled, but not easily learned from this exposure.

Many contents on the internet are hard for students to decode without context from the teacher first. “Is radiation good for you?” is a good question to ask and to discuss in class because a search on the internet will likely reveal to the student that indeed radiation is good for you (try it and pretend you don’t already know).  “Is global warming real?” is another great question to ask in class even though the answer can be googled.  This is because a student without factual knowledge beforehand will almost certainly come to the conclusion that it is fake (try it!).  “Evolution?”-try it! “Which religion is the best?” – try it!  Critical thinking without prior knowledge relies heavily on internal inconsistencies as you cannot spot the omissions without prior knowledge—that’s what makes the internet a dangerous place.

What’s wrong asking questions that can be googled?  To retell and repeat doesn’t just demonstrate understanding, it improves it.

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  1. #1 by http://yahoo.com on February 11, 2013 - 7:51 pm

    “Ask questions in class that can be googled, without Google of course!
    Mr. P. Tucker’s education Blog” definitely enables myself think a small amount further. I personally cherished every particular piece of this post. Many thanks ,Lucy

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