Wednesday, April 09, 2014

“Never memorize something that you can look up.” Albert Einstein

Today's Irish Independent in a article by education correspondent Katherine Donnelly, reports that "Students lose marks for stealing ideas from internet". The report refers to the Leaving Certificate Art and Construction Studies exam where students were found to be "falling foul of examiners for copying designs rather than developing their own ideas" and were guilty of "entering the subject titles in internet search engines and or downloading the first few concepts and ideas that emerge with little or no evidence of additional research on the part of the candidates". Hmmmm... quelle surprise!

Albert Einstein (c1947).
Image source: US Library of Congress.
Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said "Never memorize something that you can look up", and with the easy availability of Google - it has never been easier to look up anything on any subject. I am not bothered by Leaving Certificate or any students looking up the World Wide Web for ideas. In fact I often ask students to look things up in class or to find stories/articles about a particular topic. So far this year I have not had to get students to put down their computer screens in class. I used to do this a lot, but have now lost that battle. My sense now is that the benefit of students who will use a computer in class for course or module work out-weighs those who choose Facebook. I still don't allow Facebook, games, etc in class - mostly on the grounds that it disturbs those beside and behind a student engaging in this activity. However, I know some do it anyway!

In a sense I am encouraging the "look it up" education paradigm - I see no reason why preventing or not allowing this adds value to a student's education. We need to be better at using this fantastic resource rather than moaning about it. The report referred to in Katherine Donnelly's article was written by the State Examinations Commission, which concludes that educators should "encourage students to go beyond replicating an existing design that they have sourced elsewhere so that they can demonstrate higher order skills". Now that's better!

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