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Monday, March 27, 2017

The Value of Googleable Questions?

In 2006 my oldest daughter was in 4th grade and part of the curriculum was called "Daily Oral Geography." This is a well known geography curriculum that consists of weekly worksheets to teach geography. I remember buying Jessica this huge Atlas that was a bound book. We still have it because it was so nice. She could look up all sorts of maps to answer her questions. We spent a little extra for it but decided with another child 3 years younger, it would be worth it.

I remember one night Jessica was working on her D.O.G. (Daily Oral Geography) as homework and she came downstairs and asked "Mom, it asks what the 5 oceans of the world are but I see more than 5, can you help me?" I looked at the atlas and saw what she was talking about. At that point in her school life, she didn't have easy accessibility to technology. She didn't own a smartphone or iPad because they were not yet invented. We had a family computer but it wasn't seen as a place to go to help with homework.

I remember googling "5 oceans of the world" and one of the first hits was the actual worksheet she was doing all filled in by a teacher. I said "wow!" and Jessica looked over my shoulder and said, "YES!" to which I replied, "You can't just copy the answers." And she didn't. She worked hard to get her answers every week. It was a moment to teach good digital citizenship at my house but it also led me to start thinking deeper about what we ask of students. I didn't expect to find the actual worksheet on the internet and I'm sure her teacher didn't either. There is no blame in this statement, just a fact...I saw the world changing.

This was 2006, 11 years ago. Educational technology was not even a strong game at that point. Out of curiosity I just now googled the same question and in 1.75 seconds I had 1,340,000 results with the first hit being them listed in bold with bullets. What does this mean to education?

I find myself seeing this from several different angles:

  • Students becoming positive Digital Citizens. If you are a user of technology, you are a digital citizen- a participant of a community with rules and expectations that are constantly evolving. With educational technology comes faster access to information and opinions. In 2006 the ease to get to "facts" using technology was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that educators are seeing the value of students having authentic audiences, we are suggesting to students to create an online presence of their learning. No longer is it just facts that can be googled but also opinions of other students across the world. With the mapping of curriculum (which prevents gaps for students if they leave one district for another) being somewhat the same from district to district the ability to find answers to the assignments placed before students becomes easier and easier. More than ever before it is important for us to set well explained boundaries and expectations for our students. When is it ok to use technology for learning and when is it not? Teaching students the value of the process of learning, not just the end results on a worksheet for a grade is important because when I google "write my paper" I have 212,000,000 hits in .42 seconds. To think our students are not doing things like this is naive at best. Spending time in each class setting digital citizen expectations is crucial to helping students navigate and choose to be students of integrity.
  • Teachers asking intentional questions. More than ever before I think it is imperative that we look at education differently. Access to information is at the fingertips of our students (even in elementary school). When do we, as educators, ask easily Googleable questions? When do we allow technology to answer those questions for our students? How does homework fit into the easy accessibility of answers in today's world? What information is now "worth" memorizing? Who decides what required facts to purge in this day of easy accessibility? How do we make sure students are truly answering from their knowledge bank and not their ability to ask Google good questions? What's the value of worksheets in a world where you can find the answers and fill in the blanks in about 3 minutes? How do we make sure students are learning how to use tools beyond technology? When are shortcuts ok? When are they not? If Google can answer a question, is it a worthy question to be asking our students in preschool? elementary? middle? high? advanced?
  • School Culture changing to adopt more critical thinking goals. Does technology mean we should be rethinking the way we teach? In the past, the teacher was the giver of all knowledge. Now students are both learning and creating in their own way, on their own time. Does this mean we need to be looking beyond the practical and pushing students to critically think about that easily accessible information? Is this why project based learning, cross-curricular integrated units, genius hour, and personalized learning is becoming significantly more popular? Is this why schools are trying to shift away from grades-based learning to competency-based learning? Is there a better way for students to prove their understanding not just their compliance to educational norms?
I'll be honest, even as an instructional technologist, I find the possibilities for education in the future mind boggling. I want to make sure we are being student centered as we adopt and adapt education. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water but I also want to know we aren't accepting antiquated ways of doing things "because we've always done it this way." And so I ask the question again..."what is the value of Googleable questions?" and "What new expectations should we be placing on students?"

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