Is Google Destroying Higher Education?


melissaBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

I just read a great book. It’s titled, “The Googlization of Everything,” by Siva Vaidhyanathan and it discusses the impacts of Google technology on our world. Of particular interest to me were the chapters about the impact of Google on higher education, students, and scholarship. The book focuses on both positive and negative impacts of this phenomenon that have changed the way we think and behave when searching. (Intesrestingly, as I was writing this blog, I saw on the news how Congress is currently holding hearings with the Google executives about the effects of their power and dominance.)

After reading this book, I thought about the impact of Google on my teaching and student learning. I have noted behavioral changes in the way students approach information. In some aspects, this is positive – students feel confident they can find the answer to any question within seconds. For social and personal aspects, this is great. Information at our fingertips – how could that be bad? Well, I don’t think it is unless we are talking about scholarly or academic research. I’m finding students think they can simply ask Google anything and the results serve as appropriate for the classroom or writing. I ask: When did researching become searching?

How many of our students simply rely on Google instead of learning the information themselves? (Why memorize or absorb the material when I can look it up nearly as quickly?) How many use it as their main search tool, versus a school library or scholarly journal database? Conversely, how many of us use Google to quickly and easily determine sources of possible plagiarism? The very technology they are relying on to make their lives easier makes it easier for us to catch them in the act! Vaidhyantthan summarizes: “the notions of ‘library’ and ‘Internet’ have merged significantly for university students in the United States.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, per se, but it does impact the way we teach. In a personal context, how often to we say, “I’ll Google it!”? Quite a bit. But professionally, I don’t rely on Google, unless I am chasing down the aforementioned plagiarism case, and it is important students understand this difference.

One course I teach involves students to research and synthesize information using outside support. Term after term, my students struggle with this. They have difficulty blending their analysis with outside support. Before we even get to that stage, however, I have found students have trouble with the basic research part of the assignment. I now devote at least one class session to how to use the school library and online databases to effectively search for information. (First we have to define what constitutes a scholarly article, peer-reviewed journal, etc.) Students are often impatient when the article or information does not simply pop up for them immediately (as in a Google search). They tend to click only on the top search returns, and then are easily frustrated when more work is involved. I teach them to sift through the information, to be detectives digging through the heap of results. It can be painful, as they are accustomed to a quick and easy return.

After thinking about all of this, a new personal teaching objective I have is to try to blend students’ familiarity and comfort with Google with teaching them how to apply their own filters to information, thus learning how to be discerning Google users.

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her roles as a wife and mother.

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