I was having a conversation with a teacher recently who was upset about a student who had been given the ability to take a test at home, because he was out for a prolonged illness. They explained that she felt there was just no way to be sure the student didn’t just Google the answers. That got me thinking. What was being assessed on this test? What was the student being asked to do? What skills was the student expected to demonstrate? While education has been dominated for the past century or longer by an approach that emphasizes and rewards the ability to commit knowledge to memory and be able to regurgitate it on a test, this isn’t really a skill that serves our children well in preparing them for a future where information is abundant and accessible. I might go as far as saying, if you need to restrict students from using Google during an assessment, you probably aren’t assessing the most important educational outcomes.
I’m not saying that there is no benefit to committing a certain amount of intellectual capital to memory, or that there is no place for testing basic knowledge, but we have to go beyond this if we want our students to be prepared for the new economy and workforce they will one day enter. Our school system was originally built to prepare students for an agrarian or industrial economy, tweaked just a tiny bit as knowledge workers became important in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, but has not significantly evolved or adapted to our rapidly changing world of work.
Our children will graduate into a workforce that, for the most part, no longer rewards the routine, knowledge worker. Last Century, machines replaced human muscle, this century, machines (software) are replacing human brains. That is to say, software is able to manage the routine, analytical, linear thinking tasks more efficiently and accurately than the human brain. Memorizing lots of things that can be Googled, is not so important in this environment
As Daniel Pink began warning 13 years ago, we live in a world of abundance where knowledge is ubiquitous and routine work is either automated or outsourced to places where it can be done for a fraction of the cost of doing the same work in the U.S.
The U.S. labor force was approximately 160 million persons in January 2018. Just 15% of India’s population equals over 200 million (200,850,000) people. So if just 15% of India’s population engages in this routine work that can be outsourced, there are more “Routine task” workers available in India than the entire U.S. labor force. If 25% of India’s population engages in work outsourced from the U.S, they have more workers than we have people in the U.S. This does not bode well for a school system that is still largely focused on turning out graduates who are prepared to do routine, knowledge-based tasks.
Worried that your student might Google the answers? Let’s try preparing students to tackle complex problems that require them to apply knowledge in proposing solutions. Our assessments become less Googleable when they require students to engage in higher-order capabilities such as designing, creating, producing, and building something new. Our assessments become less Googleable when they require students to make judgments, test and critique those judgements or defend them with evidence. Our assessments become less Googleable, even when they are information based, when they require students to explore relationships, compare and contrast, or take information apart to do in-depth analysis. And most of all, our assessments become less Googleable as they become more connected to the skills students will need to find success in the creative economy of what Pink calls “The Conceptual Age.” Give kids real problems to solve, or better yet, guide them as they learn to identify problems to solve that are meaningful to them, and you won’t need to worry about whether or not they Googled it.