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When I was at school, some 30 years ago, it was all about sitting quietly at desks with chewing gum under them and listening while the teacher talked. Occasionally we’d copy stuff down and sometimes there would be exercises to do.

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The most important thing, when it came to exams, was ramming facts into our brains in such a way that they could be retrieved when necessary.

There was a notion that acknowledged that while the names of the intimate parts of plants were unlikely to feature in my adult life, the fact I had at one time learned them was somehow important.

Today, if I wanted to know my stigma from my anther I’ll google it from a device I have beside me all the time and I’ll know the answer in approximately 15 seconds. It doesn’t seem to me that there was ever any point in cramming the knowledge in my head all those years ago.

Yet, even now, pupils across the country spend much of the time before their exams shoving statistics, dates and names into their heads for the sole purpose of proving the fact onto the exam paper. Is this really the best way to do things?

Without doubt children need teachers who know more than them on any given subject, they need a curriculum that offers a balanced diet of things they’ll need in later life, and there must be a system of measuring all of this. However…

The internet offers more opportunities for learning than ever before. Knowledge – and those with the experience and wisdom to bring that knowledge to life – are available to anyone with the resources to seek them out.

And those resources are so accessible. A smartphone or a laptop and you can be linked to a university lecture online. A PC or a tablet and you can hear the latest TED talk or join an expert led forum in a matter of minutes.

Over the last few years when I’ve wanted to learn something I’ve begun by googling. Whether it was how to change a bike tyre, setting up a URL for my blog, hints on creating the perfect cake, suggestions for Powerpoint presentations or the ability to take well-compose digital photos, my first port of call has been the internet.

In some instances, I needed more than just the extensive resources online and I’ve found a real – person to teach me… invariably through a search engine.

The point is that with motivation and enthusiasm to learn the information and teaching is fairly easy to find and the whole exercise, while not exactly painless, is considerably easier than swotting for exams.

Obviously you can’t just leave children with a lot of laptops for six years and expect them to come out educated at the end. That way the next generation would be experts in Minecraft and Taylor Swift’s love life, but, perhaps, little else.

Instead, shouldn’t the focus in classrooms be on motivating and enthusing pupils to do their own learning? Inspiring them with the reasons for discovering the answers? Facilitating their research and finding new ways for them to understand how the world works? Helping them to collaborate and find experts to reach their goals?

More importantly it’s time the educational establishment realised that much of what is established has changed lately and they must too. Have a look how the world works and what works in the world and apply it to teaching and learning?

The only thing that hasn’t moved on, apparently, is the fact that there is still chewing gum under the furniture in school. Maybe we should google or ask in a forum for a solution to that one…

 

 

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3 Responses to “Google has turned learning on its head – it’s time we caught up”

  1. teachermumwife

    Great discussion. I’ve always believed our role as teachers is to facilitate not transmit. To transmit is easy……..there are many modes and methods to choose from. To facilitate involves some degree of connection with the student…to try an ignite an intrinsic passion for learning, to guide the learning through higher order questioning, which cannot be achieved ( as yet) by a a computer. What do you see as being the next big thing?

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  2. Gregory Klyve

    Ellen Arnison (please forgive me if I haven’t got your name right) has touched on a very important and complex issue in modern education which is most worthy of discussion.

    When I was a schoolteacher, many pupils used to ask me what was the point of their having to learn things at school when all they had to do was use a search engine on the internet to find something out.

    I would point out to them firstly that search engines would not always be available to them; indeed, in every school I have worked at since the internet became a teaching tool, there have always been occasions when the internet was down. It was a surprising, amusing and sobering sight to see both teachers and schoolchildren completely at a loss as to what to do once their electronic crutches had been kicked away from them without notice. It was also often the case that response from the internet was slow, or the computer (or other device) was playing up by freezing. I am sure that we have all had similar experiences with computers as well as all hand held devices. A book will never fail to boot up, nor will it crash or freeze when you are using it. More importantly, they were unlikely ever to be allowed to take electronic devices with search engines into exams. This also applies to life after school. Not everyone will spend their working lives with constant access to the internet and even those who do will sometimes find that it is not available. Frustrating, I agree, but inevitable. Now it is arguable that students should be allowed to have access to the internet during exams, but one has to ask what the point of such an exam would be. I shall return to this topic presently.

    The second point I would make to them is that the information they might find on the internet would not always be reliable. I agree completely that when it comes to finding out which parts of a flower are which, or the date when something happened in the past, then the information on the net is likely to be accurate. However, when it comes to anything involving more complex thought processes, such as using calculus or translating in and out of a language, the net is not as useful; it can, in fact, be positively misleading or downright inaccurate. One of the most unhelpful examples of internet use by schoolchildren has been for coursework. I’ve never really understood why we expect children to be able to do research at school. Research is an educational method which used to be confined to postgraduate students, post doctoral students and academics. This is because it was only after they had done their learning of a subject at school and their detailed studying of that subject as undergraduates that they were sufficiently well acquainted with it and sufficiently intellectually mature to be able to undertake research. It is asking an enormous amount of a child in his or her mid-teens to be able to research into a subject that they have not even finished learning properly. The worst manifestation of this is seen in the use of the internet for coursework. Far from displaying any learning, coursework seems largely to be an exercise in finding items on the internet, failing to apply any real critical examination of their value, rewording them to avoid the accusation of plagiarism, then pressing the print button. I have seen this so many times that I cannot count them all and I have spoken to very many colleagues in the teaching profession whose experience has been exactly the same. However well intentioned the idea of coursework may originally have been, it has ended up being a means for examination boards to avoid their responsibility for marking, a charter for cheats at school and, worst of all, an enormous waste of school time which would be far better used for more learning. I, for one, am glad that it appears to be on the way out, and for roughly the same reasons I have outlined above.

    My third point which, sadly, never went down very well with pupils, was that learning things without having to look them up all the time trained their memory. For no reason that I can discern, it now appears very unpopular to expect children to be able to remember the things they learn. Only last month I was having a conversation with a chemistry teacher who complained that under Gove’s new proposals for tougher exams, her pupils ‘would have to remember things they learned three years ago’. I pointed out that we had all learned arithmetic at primary school and were expected to be able to remember it more than a decade later. Her response was ‘what’s so special about memory?’ I also had a conversation many years ago with a head of English who said that we shouldn’t just be testing memory in exams. But that has never been the case, at least in secondary education. No exam that I have ever sat, set or marked has only tested memory. They have always tested the application of a child’s intellect to their knowledge and how can they demonstrate that application if they can not remember the knowledge? Allowing children access to all the data they want during exams so that they don’t have to remember anything will only test their intellect. But what would the point of such an exam be? It would be no more than an intelligence test and universities, as well as employers, do not want people who are simply clever. They want people who also know things and can remember them. Intellect is like petrol, knowledge is like a car and memory is like the ignition key. Without all three we would have to walk.

    Professor Baroness Susan Greenfield has done much valuable research into the effect of computer and internet use on the developing minds of children. She has concluded that staring at a screen and typing or playing video games is not conducive to the successful development of the brain, especially when it comes to social skills.

    The internet has its use as a tool, but some school work is simply hard and no child will succeed at it unless they are prepared to do the work.

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