Are you guilty Google?

August 22, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Sunday morningAfter 5 years, I gave up teaching at a university in Sydney largely because I was tiring of the spoon feeding students seem to expect these days. Very few students were willing to do research beyond a quick dip into Wikipedia, with the odd citation of a book or journal article thrown in. Curiosity appeared to be lacking. The general attitude seemed to be “I’m paying a heck of a lot for my education, just give me the degree/diploma”. I often had assignments handed in with slabs of text taken from Wikipedia and students more often than not failed to examine the original source material. So I threw in the towel.

Seems I’m not an isolated case as there have been some recent articles that have caught my attention and I’d like you to explore. Google and the End of Wisdom by Bob Batchelor is an interesting piece.  Here’s some snippets:

  • “I think one would be hard pressed to find a mainstream American under the age of 30 who did not feel that all their questions could be answered by Google. Today’s students, from first graders to those in graduate school, have been taught to find specific, correct answers. Google does this quickly and efficiently. For them, Google is a godsend.”
  • “In general, students are willing to forfeit advanced thinking (critical thinking, in-depth research, and healthy skepticism) for the speed and quickness of Google search results. They are so programmed by standardized testing in K-12 education that finding “facts” online is deemed sufficient to meet college-level expectations. Since standardized tests rely heavily on multiple choice examinations, the search for the single, correct answer is paramount.”
  • “Wisdom develops over time as a person stacks up experiences and finds measures to constantly reengage with the changing nature of the world at large. Relying on answers from a search engine, even if it produces thousands of results faster than the blink of an eye, cannot compare to the simple, beautiful act of sitting quietly for 15 minutes, disconnected from the computer—and thinking.”

From personal experience with Uni students over the last 5 years, I’m not going to disagree with the article. My blogging colleague Marc over at Creative Spark (you have to read his blog) had an interesting exchange with Bob regarding his article, so I won’t rehash the issues discussed.

It is of course so that we can tailor and change our information flow, through RSS feeds, Twitter exchanges and so on. So there’s an argument to say that we can be more enriched and curious in the digital world because we are exposed to so many different ideas and perspectives.

I get this but somehow – and I need to reflect more on this – it seems that today’s Uni students are just hovering at a very superficial level. They are not diving in and reflecting, ruminating, debating, challenging, exploring.

And then there was this article entitled Pixelated Brains and the New Media with a series of links to great articles, including Bob’s. The articles examine whether, with all the stuff out there in the digital universe, we are merely nibbling, grazing, getting sound bytes. Sort of like rushing through the Macca’s drive-in. We flit onto this piece of information like a butterfly and then flit somewhere else with it. But surely this aids cross-pollination of ideas.

Anyway, read the “pixelated brains” series of articles to find out whether humanity is doomed to being dumbed down or whether we are an evolving species.

At least I no longer have to mark essays that boast slabs of Wikipedia text and little evidence of critical thinking (not to mention grammatical and spelling errors). For my rants on the loss of critical thinking, go here and here if you’re interested.

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Entry filed under: Critical thinking, Education, Google. Tags: .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bob Batchelor  |  August 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Kim, thanks for the kind words about my “Google and the End of Wisdom” article. I enjoyed reading your posts re critical thinking. I completely agree with your thought: “critical thinking is hard work and a life-long journey. Practise makes perfect and the skill of critical thinking is no exception – it requires practise.”

    The great tragedy of American education, in my mind, is that students have unimaginable access to information, but do no more than graze the surface and/or look for the quickest route to an answer. We know they should be reading and thinking deeply, but I have not figured out how to convince them of the idea.

    Here in the U.S. a new college school year is about to begin. I will continue pushing the idea of critical thinking at my students and hope some of them attempt to implement it in their own lives.

    Thanks again for discussing the article and “Pixelated Brains” series!

    Reply
  • 2. thinkingshift  |  August 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Bob thx for dropping by! I say bring back the Grand Tour – the time when gentlemen of the US and the UK explored the old continent of Europe for a year or two, leisurely visited museums & art galleries, read, reflected and discussed the Classics, learnt Italian and so on. Except girls are included because it’s no longer the 19th Century!!

    Good luck with your new college year.
    Kim

    Reply

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