by Bev Novak
Part of this article is reprinted from her blog NovaNews, http://novanews19.wordpress.com/
… I've come up with the following thoughts, thoughts which strangely have tumbled out as lots of questions:
- Try replacing the word ‘Google’ with ‘look it up in books’. Books came before Google. Were books the panacea of all learning? Did the students of yesteryear ‘learn’ just by reading about it?
- Do answers to questions found on Google put knowledge into your head? Is the sum total of our knowledge just facts picked up and stuck together? If facts are just picked up at random by googling answers to questions, how does one ‘learn’ to associate facts in categories, let alone hierarchical categories?
- If we are to just rely on Google, how do students know the direction in which to search? Do they guess? Do they randomly shift from one topic to another?
- How is it possible to know when enough is enough? How can a student judge or measure the depth of information retrieved on a Google search? How can it be determined whether one or 20 websites are sufficient to ensure all aspects of a subject or topic are learned?
- What about the authenticity or validity of websites? Can just googling guarantee the currency and accuracy of information? Are all websites snared on Google legitimate and reliable?
- Surely the very act of googling is dependent on prior knowledge. Isn’t knowledge a sum of information learned? Doesn’t that mean that learning is inherent to being able to Google?
- In the model of 21st-century learning, students are active learners. Is the process of running a Google search an active or passive activity? If, as suggested, kids no longer need to learn but can google it, are they being active learners?
- Lots of information is retrieved from a Google search. It doesn’t necessarily provide explanation to an inquiring mind. How will this information be internalised?
- Are our minds just empty vessels waiting to be filled with facts? Has the sci-fi in which information is downloaded to our brains become a reality?
- Are a mass of facts equivalent to knowledge, to learning? Indeed, what is the meaning of learning and how best is learning achieved?
Clearly Google has much to offer. It enables ready access to a massive store of information. But it is just that, information.
Students cannot be expected to make sense of all the information at their fingertips without the structure, guidance and expert advice offered by educators in our schools. The completion of highly structured activities and exercises designed by teachers enables students to analyse and synthesise information retrieved by Google searches. This process, which ensures that facts are internalised, is the crux of education. It is our skilled teachers who provide a framework for learning. It is they who design and present learning experiences in logical sequences, ensuring that learning is achieved in a hierarchical order. Contriving opportunities for students to discuss, manipulate, experiment and explore sourced facts creates an environment conducive to learning. Providing instruction and direction, as well as inspiring in our students the joy of learning, is a major role of our teachers.
So what is the meaning of learning and how best is learning achieved?
Learning is the acquisition of knowledge and skill. Just knowing facts does not enable our doctors to perform intricate heart operations or develop new vaccines, nor does it enable our engineers to construct bridges, nor our architects to design buildings. Structured learning within the framework provided by our schools is the best way learning can be achieved.
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