The value of knowing instead of Googling


Teaching | Monday, August 26, 2013

The value of knowing instead of Googling

The value of knowing instead of Googling

Googling is fast and efficient. But some things shouldn’t be left to Internet searches.

“Your curriculum shouldn’t be Google-able.”

I’ve heard different versions of this at conferences, on blogs and in Twitter posts during the last year. The world has changed, many education pundits argue. People have smartphones. They can find answers to about anything in seconds.

Teachers shouldn’t focus on simple information learning anymore, many of them contend. We need to go deeper.

I agree. Creativity, critical thinking and problem solving are certainly the direction that education needs to go.

But I only agree to a certain point.

Knowing information and being able to recall it is not going out of style anytime soon. Not even if Google Glass gets popular and a search is as simple as a flick of the wrist in front of the heads-up display on our glasses. Not even if technology can read our eye movements — even our brains — to operate an information search.

Here’s an example from my area of instruction: Spanish.

Let’s imagine — in my own fantasy dream world — that many of my students will daily live in worlds where they’ll have to rely on their language skills. (Humor me, won’t you?)

They’re in Argentina on business and must answer questions about the product they’re selling. They’re in their own hometowns running a small business when Spanish-speaking customers enter and need information in their native language.

Who has the best chance of wooing clients and earning their respect — someone who improvises in the clients’ native language on the fly or who has to talk through his iPhone?

That doesn’t even begin to touch on wooing the heart of a pretty señorita one of my students might be smitten with. Smartphone communication would only go so far when it comes to love.

There’s something to recalling information from memory. There’s a confidence you get from knowing stuff. People you communicate with can see that you’re a master of your subject if you don’t have to refer to your phone or to notes.

[RELATED: Get it right from the start of school]

My area of instruction — world languages — has certainly been affected by technology. Google Translate — much to the chagrin of countless language teachers — is getting very accurate and accessible. Apps exist where users speak into a device and the speech is translated instantly.

Teachers have to reckon with these new tools and how they affect instruction (i.e. How much online translation is allowed and in what ways? If these tools are part of the real-life language interaction, what role should they play in the classroom?).

But it shouldn’t get students out of knowing the basics by heart.

Look at one of the oldest manuscripts ever written on living life — the Bible. Psalm 119:11 (NIV) says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Hiding information in your heart is powerful. It comes to mind when a quick decision — or a well-thought-out decision — has to be made. If you had to look it up, the influence of that information in your heart probably wouldn’t exist.

Teachers have a very important decision to make these days. What are the core facts, core philosophies, core ideas that students must “hide in their hearts”? What information can safely be Googled when needed?

What does this mean in your classes or content area? What can be left to quick Internet searches and what should students know by heart? Let us know in a comment below!

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  • Kim says:

    I totally agree they need to still memorize some information so they know what they are critically thinking about! That and the fact they (and we) are still judged on many standardized tests that ask them to recall facts.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Thanks Kim! You’re right … fact recall has not yet disappeared from education. Like standardized tests or not, they still do exist and ask those basic questions. Thanks for your input! 🙂

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