Could Search Engines Be Damaging Learning?

When working on an assignment a student is more likely to go Googling, searching online for reports, magazine articles, blog posts and material other than sifting through old dusty almanacs and anthologies in the library, but some experts are concerned about the ease of access to this information.

Educators and others worry that it may result in less learning because research may be more shallow and students may be less likely to retain information because it is accessible online. It's called the Google Effect, writes Shirley Jinkins at the Star-Telegram.

Marc Schwartz, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and director of the South West Center for Mind, Brain and Education, admits that while that the Internet is changing the face of how research is done, but fundamentally teachers in the classroom have a greater influence on learning.

Schwartz said:

"I had to memorize Martin Luther King's famous ‘I Have a Dream' speech in school. I don't think memorizing a speech is a necessary step to understand the message, why it's important or why we need to keep coming back to that message.

"That's still the teacher's responsibility."

However, a paper published last year called the "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips" suggests that people no longer make extensive efforts to find out the things they want.

In essence, we forget things we are confident can be found on the Internet, writes Jinkins.

Betsy Sparrow, one of the authors of the paper, said:

"Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things.

"Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found."

However, instead of having a detrimental effect on how we learn, Sparrow believes we are actually becoming more intelligent.

"Memory isn't just remembering special details. It's understanding the association between things. A very simple way of looking at memory is thinking of it as just being able to memorize things and regurgitate the facts. There's so much more to it than that.

"There may be more information now that we look up quickly online when if we looked inside our brains we could find it. But it's not that different than the transitive sources we've always used as external memory sources.

"It just seems that much more scary in some ways, the idea that we're locating everything we learn outside ourselves."

However, Michael Mundt, an AP coordinator and former AP teacher at Crowley High, believes that "a reliance on shallow research" is a bigger issue with students, no matter the research method.

"They'll take the easiest way out and go for the first thing on the menu," he said.

Teachers often attempt to embrace technology for research while still maintaining their preferences for how the material is used.

Mundt, for example, requires students who go on Wikipedia – "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" – to look at the footnotes on source material and go to the original sources.

02 23, 2012
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