Is “I can just Google it” making us stupid?

08 Jun 2018 |

Can you rely on technology too much? Does the ability to look up any fact on Google mean we are losing the skill of memorising information? Is Google making us stupid?

These were the questions being challenged in the Global Education and Skills Forum 2018 Debate Chamber.

Those taking part in the debate were asked to consider the proposition “Is “I can just Google it” making us stupid?”

Education experts backing the idea that Google is making us more stupid emphasised the damaging effects that an over-reliance on technology can have on mental capacity.

Those speaking against said that immediate access to information means students can learn faster and become smarter, not stupid, thanks to Google.

Here’s what both sides of the debate had to say.

Yes – “I can just Google it” is making us stupid

As a woman working in the EdTech sector, No More Marking director of education Daisy Christodoulou made clear that she wasn’t against technology.

However, she did believe an overreliance on tools such as Google could be harmful to key mental functions such as memory and attention.

“Research shows us that memory and attention are two vital parts of our mental equipment,” said Ms Christodoulou.

“We also know memory and attention are under siege from technology like never before.”

She addressed both sides of the Debate Chamber, noting that we need facts stored in long term memory in order to be able to think “and that’s why things like memorising times tables matters”, because we can arrive at solutions far quicker when information is stored in our long term memory.

“This is not the kind of thing you can outsource,” she said.

Likewise, attention is equally important, said Ms Christodoulou, citing recent research that shows “even the sight of a smartphone causes attention to lower”.

Sticking with the importance of memory, Teach First’s Sam Freedman claimed that many of those in favour of “just Googling” supported abstract learning concepts and development of skills, rather than children learning and memorising facts.

However, “every piece of evidence says countries that use direct instruction perform better in the PISA tests than those that use abstract learning”, he said.

“Why do we ignore this?” asked Mr Freedman.

“Because we think “I can just Google it”.”

He added that he wasn’t against the development of skills like creativity in education, but that “real creativity comes from deep, deep understanding of your subject”.

And this deep understanding is not something that can come from “just Googling” information, he said.

No – “I can just Google it” is not making us stupid

Those speaking against the proposition at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2018, not only said that Googling does not make students stupid. They claimed that tools like search engines are in fact helping students work smarter and faster.

Global Teacher Prize Top 10 finalist Koen Timmers said Google was just a tool, like a calculator.

“You can use it in a good way, or you can use it in a bad way,” he said.

Citing a global online project that he launched in 2017 involving 250 schools in 69 countries, Mr Timmers said during the project students were more engaged and they built their own knowledge.

“What was essential during this process was using Google,” he said.

“Sure they sometimes stumbled over the wrong information, but it was the teacher’s duty to point them in the right direction.”

Teachers became facilitators in the project, which required students to devise solutions for problems related to climate change. The teachers helped “students understand and interpret that information” that they found on Google, said Mr Timmers.

“What do we want?” he asked. “Students memorising facts, or students knowing how to solve problems?”

Echoing this sentiment, Cerego founder and CEO Andrew Smith Lewis said poor teaching rather than the technology should be blamed if students are getting stupid.

“If your kid can go to school and get away with just googling it, then you should probably switch schools,” he said.

“The issue we face with technology is that we have cutting edge technology, but the practice of teaching has been left in the past.”

Mr Smith Lewis said technology like Google made information far more accessible and affordable than expensive textbooks and encyclopedias, improving the education prospects of many young people.

Equally, searching online gives a student the opportunity to compare and contrast multiple sources and points of view, which “fosters a sense of curiosity”, he said.

So is Google making us stupid?

At the start of the debate, only 31% of the audience at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2018 believed that “just Googling” was making us more stupid, 59% were against the proposition and 10% were undecided.

This audience of public, private and social leaders from the education sector showed that their sentiment changed only slightly by the end of the debate: 32% were in favour of the proposition, 50% were against and 18% were undecided.

Now in its sixth year, the Global Education & Skills Forum welcomes global leaders and education practitioners to solve education, employment and equity for all. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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