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If you can Google it, why teach it?

With Google in the classroom, teachers should reimagine lessons

google-teachingAre any of us better than Google as an instructor?

Is there anything value-added vis-à-vis your classroom teaching? Might one contribute a unique understanding, or presentation, of content? Is offering a professional, high-quality, filtering of fluff and misinformation your unique contribution? Or, is there high-quality feedback that deepens and furthers learning – something arguably Google still does not do?

Kitchen table pedagogy

The point is, of course, that you probably can Google every single concept you currently teach and your students know this well. An added challenge is to grapple with the informal course designs that are popping up all over the net. We might reference this phenomenon as “kitchen table” pedagogy. These home-based “course designers” are challenging in ways that most academics have not even begun to consider; that is, their value, and perhaps the edge, they may have over other forms of transmitting traditionally taught academic information.

In the field of psychology there are numerous kinds of homegrown experiments peppering the net. For example, many good examples of kitchen table concepts exist, such as object permanence, the rouge nose experiment, and examples of ego centrism.

One can wonder how professors justify their classroom design in light of knowing how much teaching and learning is available any time and free of charge on the internet. How can one in good faith continue to teach as if the internet does not exist? With each semester that passes, students are not just a little bit more digitally native, but are algorithmically more in-tune with how to find information on the internet.

In a recent NPR interview with correspondent Anya Kamenetz, former Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent, and current CEO of PDK International, Joshua Starr, asked a prominent school superintendent in the Washington D.C. area similar questions. Starr, discussing his stepping down as superintendent comments “I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? Because we have so much information today. How do you help kids navigate that? That’s critical thinking and creative problem solving.”

Like modern day explorers we might head onto the high seas of the web and explore and evaluate, perhaps colonize it, too, by landing and frequenting places that provide valuable resources that can be shared with others. Obviously there is no value-neutral way to do this kind of pedagogy, but it is clearly the future of education — as unavoidable as the rising seas themselves.

Next page: 3 solutions to try

Creative solutions through “Yoda Google”

Obviously, our mission is not to be an entertainer and reimagining the role might seem more difficult to construe. If we can face the reality of Google and electronics in the classroom, what kinds of creative solutions can be offered?

Perhaps one can start by considering that students are both face-to-face and online students at the same time. In essence, we design all of our face-to-face classes into a new form of blended course design. What may emerge is some as-of-yet unnamed course design that ignores the formal distinction and takes on the real nature of teaching in the time of Google – “Yoda Google.”

If you are wondering how to approach your course to ensure value, try our exercise based on this Yoda concept, called “What would Google do?”

Make a list of the 10 activities or uniquely “you” things that cannot be Googled. Strip your course back and see what remains – the purpose here is to engage students within a landscape that is not familiar with them. This may be your own personal stories, their own stories related to course materials, or even a creative exercise like asking students to take Play-Doh and play with it toddler style in order to relate their creation to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.

Resist the social and research-based convention that learning cannot take place in this realm. If the student has come to class and is online while you lecture, then considering why they came to class seems a plausible path to take. Are they there due to a strict attendance policy? If not, then are they there because they like the experience of being with peers? Might they still be learning even if looking distracted? If so, what kinds of learning can take place while they’re online? Just as memory is now known to be based on many factors (feelings, words, situation, past experiences, etc.), learning may be similar in that one learns not simply by focus and alertness, but by being in a thoughtful and overall engaged state; an alertness that engaging with electronic devices might provide.

Become fully human in the classroom: more authentic and engaging, vulnerable, storytelling, thoughtful, and interesting. While amusing students is sometimes seen as a shortcoming, it is a form of getting others to “get it.” Other forms of being fully human might be to forget all forms of technology in the classroom and talk with students, asking them thoughtful questions and become one of the remaining areas of life that is free of technology – a place to get away from it and engage with other people in sharing ideas, exploring creative approaches to learning, and responding in an authentic manner.

Carla Bluhm is an associate professor of Psychology at the College of Coastal Georgia. Kevin Mobbs is an assistant professor of Education at Jacksonville State University. Read the full version of this article, “Lecturing to ghosts: Blurring the face-to-face and online divide,” in eCampus News.

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