Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's Wrong With Google Telling Me Everything?

The topic of Critical Thinking and Google Searches seems to poke it's head out via various discussions and conversations every now and then. Even on #edchat last night the topic centered around moving kids away from thinking Google has all the answers to thinking critically.

First let me clarify. I use the term Google Searches loosely. That has come to mean all searches but there are obviously other search engines out there (Like Bing and Yahoo) that are still relevant and used in schools. But by far, Google is the most popular search engine around.

So my question is, what's wrong with the fact that Google is able to tell me everything I need to know?

I am having trouble remembering what I did before search online. I imagine it involved a trip to my local library (which I still enjoy doing) and spending hours and hours of research to find the simplest of facts or answers. I still remember using a card catalog, pulling out the long drawer of dusty and musty 3x5 cards, in an attempt to find the population of New Zealand in 1975.

So what would have taken 5 minutes of searching, now takes seconds. Granted, it doesn't seem like all that much but still, when doing massive amounts of research, spending time in search engine land is a life saver, travel saver, money saver, etc. I use search everyday for all sorts of things. And Google searches especially because of the shortcuts that are available.

So I ask whats wrong with Google (or any other search engine) telling me the answers I seek?

The argument seems to be, in the classroom, that if a question is asked that Google can answer, then there is something wrong with the question. I'm not so sure about that. Yes, I want students to be at the top of Blooms Taxonomy and be evaluators and creators. But having some factual knowledge is important too.

I don't think there is anything wrong with asking questions search engines can answer. After all that is what they are there for. What is wrong is when the question is the end of the lesson. And often times it is. Lessons will end with the facts when really that is just a beginning. If we are asking questions of kids that search engines can answer and not asking them to think about the quality of the information or where that information comes from then why bother?

Any Joe on the street can type some words into a search box and get results. But, we are headed down a road where we are graduating groups of students who don't think critically about the information they receive (and who think The Onion has real news.)

Sure we need to spend time teaching kids on how to do quality searches, using key terms and wildcards. But that is a lesson over a day or two. What needs to be woven into our curriculum is what Howard Rheingold calls Crap Detection. The premise is that even adults have a very difficult time filtering out the junk of what is online. So if adults are having a hard time how can we be teaching critical thinking to kids? It's ok for kids to get their information online and from search engines but if we are not having longer conversations about the evaluation of the resources we are using then we are just reinforcing what people already believe; that is we simply cramming facts into the brains of our students.

Need an example of fact checking? Check out this website about Explorers.The first time I saw it, I will admit, I was fooled. I thought it was a great site for information about Explorers. I sent it to a teacher without looking at the entire site and comparing the information found there to other sources. Only later did I find out that it was set up to teach kids (and people like me) about fact checking and critical thinking on the web.

So if we are asking questions that Google or any other search engine can answer, that's cool with me. But, if we aren't taking the next steps and having kids explain the choices of the sources of our information then we aren't moving up Blooms, which is what we should be doing. Check out a wiki Howard set up about Critical Thinking that is full of great information how to teach it, understand it and use it. And you can use this guide from Microsoft that aims to help kids improve their search skills and gives some lessons to use in the classroom.

What do you think? Is it wrong for Google to be able to tell us everything? How do you teach critical thinking about web resources in your classroom. Leave some ideas below.

Image from Ari on Flickr CC
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