Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Tue

Sep

21

Why memorize when you can Googleize?

posted: September 21, 2010 by

In the age of Google, do we still have to memorize things? Seems like a strange question, but many educators are experiencing significant pushback from students who resist memorizing information that can be found online in an instant. What’s the point? ask students, who complain about what they see as “an incredible waste of time,” when facing rote memorization or similar seemingly repetitious assignments.

A few years back, Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics, Growing Up Digital, Grown Up Digital) made headlines with his pronouncement that for the “net generation…memorizing facts and figures is a waste of time.” Most faculty in med school, law school, engineering, history, music, and well, just about every department and program across every higher ed campus would likely disagree with Tapscott’s blanket statement. But his observations are (as always) insightful and provocative, and surely most educators would agree that ideally, creative, applied, problem-based pedagogies are preferable to rote memorization. And as Tapscott points out, today professors and students alike are letting the internet do some of the cognitive heavy lifting when it comes to fact-checking. But memorization still has a time and place in school and out, in the age of Google and even for those with the smartest of smartphones.

Speed-dial Memory

For example, last week The New York Times profiled a typical case that illustrates the importance of memorization for those (perhaps infrequent) times when even the most highly wired among us are unexpectedly unplugged, gadgetless and disconnected from the information superhighway and off the grid of our friend networks. When “Travis Erickson, 21, discovered that his cellphone had been either stolen or lost in the sand he also discovered that he was stranded.” Why? Because he didn’t know his girlfriend’s cell phone number. “I never had to know it,” Mr. Erickson told The New York Times, “because it was always in my pocket on my phone.” The journalist suggests that as “cellphone address books and other technological advances do our remembering for us” there may be a negative “impact on our ability to memorize” information. Not knowing his girlfriend’s phone number certainly had a negative effect for Mr. Erickson. She broke up with him.

The Times offered Travis Erikson’s story as one thread in the fabric of our information culture, where high-speed connectivity spreads far and wide, and more consumers opting for feature-rich, web-ready smartphones and dataplans. Today, access to basic information, fast facts, phone numbers, simple calculations, and real-time updates, are all readily on screen, at hand. Why memorize, when you can speed-dial or Google-it? Why memorize, when there’s Wikipedia and YouTube, crowdsourced sites rich with up-to-date information and history? Why remember when a quick status update nets your information courtesy of trusted sources on Facebook or Twitter?

External Memory

Clearly this perspective is more likely to be heard from the connected class, millennials, digital natives, urbanites, and lifehackers among us. Armed with multifunctional handheld consumer electronics in pockets and purses, we’re outsourcing our digits and data to Google, Facebook, Apple, and RIM. The result is increased productivity and pace in a culture characterized by instantaneity and information overload–but the flipside is decreased cognitive workouts.

Between mobile technologies, cloud computing, and Google-cached culture, it seems we are forgetting how to remember, and opting out of everyday memory work—with many none too worried about it. But back on campus, many are concerned with the cost of digitizing memory and resistance to rote memorization activities in the classroom.

Memorization and Analytic Thinking

When students ask, What’s the point? We might wonder, is there a negative impact on intelligence when we trust Google and Android have our back? In response, scientists are quick to weigh in on the importance of working memory workouts to keep the brain healthy.

And educators point out that memorizing basic building blocks of data is the foundation for constructing advanced knowledge and sharp analytic ability. “Having a foundation of knowledge is necessary for more complex thinking,” observes educator Chris Fritz. “If a student does not know and cannot discuss very basic concepts,” writes one insightful educator on Yahoo! Answers, “then that student will never be able to get to higher level critical thinking.”

Digital Tools and Memory Work

To combine the best of both worlds then, mixing digital and traditional learning styles, technoprofs and digital natives could consider using flashcard apps on their iPhones/iPads, their Androids/BlackBerrys, or any laptop a digital tool to help students memorize facts and figures while on-the-go.

As well, infographics may make memorizing information easier for students who respond well to visual learning methods. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then infographics are an ideal, data-dense, mobile-friendly learning tool.

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Categories: Exam Preparation
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Thu

Jul

8

Supporting Students’ Sharing Stuff

posted: July 8, 2010 by

image by Spencer FinnleyOkay yes, that was a silly alliteration in my title, but the truth remains: GenY students love to share information via status updates, and as blogger Josip Petrusa puts it, “we’re all looking for something to share.”

Not just anything makes the cut as status-update-worthy of course, just those tidbits that are deemed sufficiently “’cool’, ‘funny,’ and anything else that would make us look good,” Petrusa observes.

Adding value to one’s social networks by being the first to “break” news, becoming known as the go-to profile for new music, making people laugh, posting the best photos—all of these acts are about amassing cultural capital in a social computing economy.

So where does teaching enter in?

Teaching students how to find “cool” funny, odd, interesting material online, then building social platforms for this exchange to take place among classmates, even incentivizing the P2P activity by connecting it to course assessments—that’s how teachers actively support student sharing.

Any professor knows how to connect their course content to current affairs, interesting historical twists and turns, strange but true trivia, shocking stats, and key players. When we share some of that insider perspective on the course topic, those tasty shareable bits, our students gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Moreover, spicing up a lecture by designing it with these kinds of “hooks” will pique student interest, making it more likely they’ll redistribute the information along their social graph.

And there are other ways for teachers to support an academic culture of sharing, and increase student engagement in the process. We can of course build a course wiki, or social net (such as Ning) or launch a Facebook page as the platform for sharing.

And technoprofs can teach students intelligent searching strategies.

The real wizards at intelligent search logic are the librarians, and this has been true long before computers came to campus. Arranging for a librarian subject specialist to do a guest lecture or workshop for your class will help make students aware of how to avoid information overload, increase relevance of results, and optimize time spent online. This, coupled with some old-fashioned tips on how to become a better researcher, (something any faculty member should have expertise in) will add value to the course for share-minded students.

A second idea to create a sustained culture of sharing is to give students a hands-on workshop (or assignment) on social listening strategies. This will make them far more efficient at filtering the web. From free resources like Social Mention and Google Reader’s RSS organizer, to professional tools like Radian6 and MeltwaterBuzz suites of tools, social searching is a truly useful skill for individuals, as well as businesses and organizations. How to get students interested in the wonders of SEO and SERPs? Start with a bit of social listening about their personal digital footprints and online reputation.

By leveraging millennial students’ media habits and desire to share, and increasing their effectivity at it, faculty can activate the classroom while teaching 21st Century digital literacy skills. Good sharing practices and pedagogies build links between the online and offline worlds, from the lecture hall to the community beyond, and strengthen ties between students and their friends and families.

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Categories: Social Media
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