Homer Simpson once quipped “To Alcohol! The cause of… and solution to… all of life’s problems” Replace Homer’s libations with technology and one might surmise the idiom is still infallible.
For as long as someone has been trying to educate me technology played a role in the experience (I’ll date myself for a moment here an mention the Apple IIe desktop computer and Intellivision gaming unit as some of my earlier experiences with it). And, likewise, as long as I can remember someone else was bemoaning how technology was ruining children, the educational process and devaluing the existence of society overall.
As with any progression, “advancement” comes at a price and as many holes as each new technology has plugged in the educational process it sprung all new challenges to overcome. The true pragmatics recognize the values and limitations of tablets, search engines, crowd sourced data, always-on connectivity and so on, but they aren’t the loudest voices. Instead we are barraged with the extremes (like with everything else) who either are over-zealous with their attempts at being first-adopters or curmudgeons who are dragged kicking-and-screaming along in true luddite fashion.
Research on the effects of technology on education is sparse, typically skewed and usually underwhelming and The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project‘s latest results are not at all surprising nor actually insightful. Beyond a few nice pull quotes about how teachers lament their student’s use of the internet as a research tool (depending on the question content itself between 71 and 76%) but between 80 aand 87% of those nearly 2,500 teachers surveyed relied on it for their own research compared with 53 – 60% percent of U.S. adult Internet users (again depending on the exact question contents).
What struck a chord with me wasn’t the results themselves, but some of the underlying observations and the perceptions the were wrapped in. For example, consider this pull quote:
The study found that 76 percent of teachers “strongly agree” that search engines have conditioned students to expect to find information”
The search engine has not done this to students. Search engines are tools and are no more responsible for their use, or misuse, than say any other tool. Society has done it to students by objectifying the perception of the results as being useful. Lycos didn’t set out to replace traditional research and it certainly didn’t advertise itself back in 94 to create any perceptions at all. Nor did Magellan, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Northern Light, and AltaVista as they appeared later. It wasn’t until Google came onto the scene and began to gain a dominant market share that rival Yahoo!, which was already a well established web portal with a search feature, begin touting its own engine’s functions.
However, unlike most established traditional rivalries the Yahoo! Google search engine war was not about traditional media blitzes or public relations barrages, it was about results. The predictability of its results which are rendered quickly, ordered intuitively and were expansive to essentially the entire web became the foundation of word of mouth praise.
That’s exactly the opposite of what the statement surmises. The conditioning of students “Googling” their research wasn’t because the tool told them this is how to research or some mega-corporation made them do it. It was because teachers, parents and peers modeled this behavior for the students.