Next time you’re with your students, look around. How many of them have smartphones in their hands? In a lot of classrooms, the answer will be all of them. Every teen has the web in his or her pocket. And it’s not so easy to unplug.
We are almost physically attached to our technology at this point. When you ask a student put his phone away, watch how truly difficult it is for him to separate himself from his device. We may all be just one step away from M.T. Anderson’s chip-in-brain version of the future in his novel Feed.
This profound attachment is the reason I’ve been raving about using technology and social media in the classroom for the past year—my students are part of the Google Generation. They prefer learning by Googling, and I’m meeting them online in hopes of reaching them. Teachers were once the Keepers of the Knowledge, but that is no longer the case. I mean, compared to the knowledge the Internet holds, I’m an idiot.
I do not know one iota of what can be searched via Google. With one click, students can learn more about Frankenstein than I know, and I’ve been teaching it for thirteen years. As scary as this capability may be, it’s a wake-up call about my methods of instruction.
The answers to many of our questions are no longer hard to find. Generation G takes an instant-gratification approach to knowledge (along with everything else). We are one click away from any information we want. You need to know what Mary Shelley writes about the creature’s origins in Frankenstein? Click. Page sixty. Want to know what Einstein discovered? Click. Want to know if a butterfly can change its colors? Click. Want to know the answers to Ms. Morrell’s homework assignment? Click.
Right now you’re thinking, I know how to solve this problem. Ask your students to complete higher-order thinking questions! Pose analysis and synthesis questions that can’t be insta-Googled.
Of course, we should always have been aiming for the top of the pyramid anyway. But Gen-G takes a different approach to even complex problems. Thanks to iChat, Facebook, and Skype, almost no assignment is completed by individual effort. Generation G has all their contacts just one click away. Why waste time when someone else probably already has the answer or info? These kids instinctively form cooperative groups. The Internet has fostered the collective hive-mind.
I went through a few old notebooks last week. What I couldn’t help but notice was the degree to which my students’ assignments from 2000 differed from this year’s work. Perhaps a portion of that growth has to be attributed to my becoming a more seasoned teacher, but I also believe a large part of that change is prompted by the universe of knowledge at my students’ fingertips.
There are drawbacks to the collective, of course. To extend the hive analogy, we need to be aware of dominant “queen bees” disseminating their ideas to less inquisitive members of the group.
We also need to train our students to be discriminating consumers of knowledge. More and more we are battling the very deeply ingrained belief that information published on the web is true or valid—or even useful. Our students who view their smartphones as very nearly a physical appendage tend to believe what they hear, see, and read online. And more and more, the web is filled with misinformation. We need to go beyond teaching them about our subjects; we need to teach them to navigate Googleland with a discerning eye.
And that’s the number one reason why we need to bring technology and social media into our classrooms. They are already using it. You can’t uncast that die. Today, it is part of our job to help Generation G to navigate the labyrinthine world of the web. To go beyond “Google it” so that each student can harness this incredible tool to really understand the lessons we are teaching.
A Special Thanks to Jennifer Howard.