Every week, I write these short blurbs about teaching and learning for my school’s parent newsletter. They’re supposed to be brief, punchy, and informative. I’ve decided to post old ones on this site from time to time so that teachers and leaders can steal them to use in their own newsletters. I hope doing so saves you time.
– Dr. G
Has Google revolutionized education?
I’m often told that education today needs to change to meet the needs of tomorrow. One of the reasons given is that our students no longer need to go to a teacher or a library to gain access to the world’s most powerful knowledge; They can simply Google it on their smartphones.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but if you follow my messages in this newsletter, you’ll know that I love a good unpacking. The first problem with having a “Google-based” education is well-known: Much of what is found on the internet is unhelpful, harmful, or factually incorrect. In order to sort through all of the nonsense that is on the internet, students need to know how to ask Google the right questions. And therein lies the next problem: In order to ask the right questions, students need to have a lot of knowledge already. We can’t expect a student to spontaneously Google “What materials were used to make sarcophagi” if they don’t have the faintest clue what a sarcophagus is or why they should care!
Another problem with replacing “old-fashioned teaching” with Google is something I learned very recently from Saskia Giebl, a scientist who studies Google and learning. In her research, she asked students to either a) Google questions to find answers or b) Think about the answers to questions and then use Google to check their answers. As you probably predicted, the students who thought about the questions first learned more from using Google than the students who Googled without thinking. While Google is a useful tool for finding information, it’s also the case that relying on Google can create passive learning experiences that do not engage the mind.
So, has Google revolutionized education? Kinda, sorta, but not really. We still need to teach students interesting and powerful stuff, and we still need to encourage them to think hard about that stuff. Only then can we expect Google to expand our scholars’ horizons in ways that weren’t possible before the internet.