As a child I loved reading through encyclopedias. My mom bought one or two Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias each week at the grocery store until we had the full set with the atlas. They were beautiful, lined up on the shelves in our dining room. I used them for reports and projects and sometimes I just laid on the floor thumbing through them. One of my favorite things to do was read about continents and countries. I studied the graphs and charts of population statistics, measured distances, and compared flags. I looked at pictures of capital cities and festivals and art from each place.
By the time I hit my pre-teen years we had a Commodore 64 with an encyclopedia disk. I waded through some of the content on the computer, but it was never the same for me. I grew up learning from books and the shift to learning on a computer was bumpy.
Luckily, my son is a reader. He loves learning from books. But, he will never know the pleasure of curling up with an encyclopedia. I don’t even know if he will ever cite an encyclopedia in a research paper. In a way it makes me sad. However, I know he doesn’t need encyclopedias. He will never have to alphabetically search for a topic or cross-reference if he can’t find it right away in an encyclopedia. He will never have to wait to find out the answer to one of his questions. If my son has a question he is likely to Google it on his iPad or ask me to look it up on my cell phone. I appreciate knowledge being at his fingertips and in many ways he is more aware of the world around him because information is so easily accessible for him.
Sometimes I worry about the tasks we ask our students to complete now that we know basic knowledge can be easily found online. When I was 11 it would have taken me forever to find the population statistics of multiple locations, list capital cities, find distances between places, and find coordinating visuals for a school project. I may have needed a trip to the library to complete it. Today that might easily be an assignment for a student. It might even be where that assignment stopped. Simply copy and paste. No graphing or charting, no comparing statistics or looking for patterns, or learning about the relationship between land and people.
Are the students of today any smarter than I was at 11 because of technology access? Are we really teaching students to critically think about content or just Google it? Are we accepting copy and paste when what we really want is connections and analysis?
Knowing the basics isn’t enough. There must be a balance between knowledge and thinking skills that leads to application and transfer. Copy and paste is akin to regurgitation in my mind. We lose the complete picture of understanding when we accept this as learning. Our students are savvy. It doesn’t take much for them to realize their learning is disconnected and inauthentic. I would wager to say that many of them crave a deeper interaction with content. Let’s empower them and support them to be thinkers and doers.