Learners and Search Engines

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Christopher Dawson (Twitter: @mrdatahs) for highlighting an issue with the way some students are being mis-taught.


It is one of the responsibilities of a decent society is to equip its members to function effectively in their future lives. Teachers are one group of people that shoulder that responsibility.

Society changes at different rates at different times. In a society that changes slowly, most of the skills that were learned in childhood are applicable for the whole of a person’s life, and the need to learn new things is relatively uncommon. The Information Revolution has changed all that. Teachers now have an additional learning outcome for their charges: the ability to function effectively in the context of an information society.


Ready access to information is a given for today’s students. Teachers need to harness that to continue discharging their responsibilities to the learners. Prohibiting students from using rich sources of information is an abrogation of that responsibility. Such teachers complain that the students simply copy and paste from the information sources into their responses to assignments.

The learning opportunities that are missed by this approach are mind-boggling.

One of the great challenges to today’s netizens is how to judge the quality of the information that they find on the Internet. From my own little hole in the ground, it seems that the great majority of people accept everything that they find on the Internet as accurate. While some organisations such as Wikipedia go to great efforts to ensure the accuracy of what is on their web site, others are less careful. There is also a great amount of information posted in blogs and newsgroups. Anybody who accepts all such information uncritically is living dangerously: I have seen factual inaccuracies in Wikipedia, and potentially fatal medical advice posted elsewhere.

Teachers who fail to take advantage of the learning opportunities presented by this are failing to discharge their responsibility. The complaint about copying and pasting is unsustainable. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, give the students a choice: either research the given topic without reference to information sources that you know can be used for copy and paste, or use those sources, and give a critical appraisal of at least two of those sources. Any teachers who cannot handle this should question whether or not they are still fit for service.

I know of teachers who build such critical appraisal activities into their assignments.

Nor is this lack of focus on teaching critical appraisal skills limited to just teachers. I have yet to see a curriculum document which includes the skill of being able to judge the accuracy of information in this context. This is an equally strong condemnation of the organisations that write and maintain those documents.

Educators who read this post might want to ask the curriculum organisations in their area what those organisations are doing to address this ridiculous shortfall.

One thought on “Learners and Search Engines

  1. Pingback: A product of the system | ZDNet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *