Shock and Awe

February 24, 2010 at 12:25 am (Classroom Observations) ()

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a funny new phrase entered popular parlance: shock and awe. Much was made, as American and coalition forces massed across an invisible line in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti desert, of America’s intended use of shock and awe as military strategy. Basically, this meant that we were going to bomb the heck out of the Iraqis (remember MOAB? another funny new Iraqi War word) so that when it came time to actually fight, they’d be too rattle to put up much of a resistance.

Well, I think I can relate to those poor Iraqi regulars and Republican Gaurd units, after what I saw over the last week. Hyperbole? Of course. A crass comparison? Likely. Grossly insensitive? Probably. But I was, to be sure, both shocked and awed.

Here’s what happened. It’s a 12th grade US Gov’t class. The activity, selected by the cooperating teacher, involves small groups in the class coming up with 10 bills to present to their classmates for a vote. I sat in the back of the class, observing silently. That’s when I saw it. One student, a girl of 17 or 18, had her laptop open, presumably trolling the internet for ideas or background information to support her bills. What I saw instead was a Google search. In the search box was, and I quote, “10 Bills.”

My breath caught in my throat. My heart palpitated. Could it be this student was really trying to come up with 10 bills by searching “10 Bills” in Google? Look, I love Google. I probably use it 20 times a day, no lie. I ask Google many things, even stupid things. It’s an incredibly useful tool. But it seemed this student was fundamentally missing the nature of this tool. I feared that, given her search, she thought Google was some sort of robot with advanced AI which could understand her teacher’s assignment and spit out 10 mock bills, ready to be submitted to class.

I collected myself. Maybe, I told myself, she was assuming this was a common assignment and that the keywords “10 Bills” would trigger some other kid’s past results. That’s reasonable, right? But I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was really missing something.

My fears were confirmed today. I had forgotten all about the “10 Bills” episode, and today was observing the class as they further researched their bills in order to defend them in a debate. I assumed my position again in the rear of the class, silently watching. My eye caught the Google search of the same girl. She was, apparently, trying to do research to defend a bill she wrote to award more funding to Virginia airport security.

Her search: “defend bill for more money for Virginia airport security.” Again, this could be simply an odd search here or there that is overly specific. But no. A few moments later, this student raised her hand and complained that she couldn’t find any helpful information.

I can’t explain why this offends me so. I guess I’m just disheartened by the gross misunderstanding the Google search reflected. This student was so unable to think critically that she was relying on incredibly specific Google searches that weren’t likely to yield the results she needed.

The question is, what am I prepared to do about it?

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1 Comment

  1. davd said,

    great insights- yep we assume students know how to use the internet and navigate it– they must- because they are digital natives .. right..
    but ……..
    lot’s of research indicates that without explicit instruction and support students take the path of least resistance — “10 bill”
    What can you do about it– your students need scaffolding and support from you– soft scaffolding and modeling to show how to begin to really explore the internet–
    Shock and awe yes– and now that you see this– what are you doing to do about it 🙂
    I have a feeling you will be doing a lot..

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