Friday, 4 February 2011

Google Factoid - Mea Culpa

Two weeks ago (the original post is here) I detailed what I called a 'game-changing' piece of kit  being released by Google. 'Factoid' was designed to bring knowledge and facts to the writer/learner, utilising the powerful search capacities they have developed through ad sense, linked to their huge digital repository of knowledge. The filters you could apply, would bring you relevant economic, geo-political and historical data, without you having to look for it, simply by typing key words into your document.

Lots of people got very excited about the radical implications that such a technological breakthrough would bring to teaching and learning. It's time to confess: I made it up. I'm afraid Factoid was Fictoid. The only thing that was true was that I do own a very small number of Google shares, but that was never going to get me sneak previews of new lab developments, as I claimed.

Now, I apologise to anyone who was taken in by the story, but I hope people will see that the point I was trying to make was worth the deception.

You see, over 3,000 people have viewed that post in the past two weeks, and not a single one (including some social media experts – sorry, Ewan, Sorry Dan) questioned the likelihood of it being true. What does this tell us? That people were half-expecting it, and that it's merely a matter of time before such apps do exist. The real question lies in how we respond to such technological advancements.

I have never agued for skills over knowledge. To my mind, they're equally important. It's just a shame that the fixation we now have with testing, means that what we can test the most easily (what we know) invariably takes precedence over what really matters (what we can do with that knowledge). And, despite there being no proven connection between PISA/TIMMS scores and national prosperity, industrialised countries have judged the quality of their national education systems by PISA performance, and have therefore conned themselves into believing that what can be PISA tested is what we should be teaching. PISA doesn't test skills, so knowledge becomes everything.

Skills are acquired experientially, knowledge isn't. You have to fathom out how to make knowledge work for you, and that, in my experience, is what teachers really want to be doing: helping their kids apply knowledge, not standing in front of them, turgidly chronicling the kings and queens of England.

Witness the surge of interest in 'flipping' the conventional relationship between the classroom lecture and homework. Instead of using valuable class time lecturing 30 kids, and then setting them homework to see if they understood it, growing numbers of forward-thinking teachers are podcasting their lectures – to be viewed as homework – so that they can use class time to support students in putting that knowledge into practice. Flipping's popularity has occurred because it appeals to teachers' intrinsic desire to grow human beings, not fact accumulators.

So, I believe that the English government has misjudged the mood of teachers, by signalling a reversal of pedagogy, away from skills, and back to facts. Or perhaps it's a cunning ruse to make deeper public sector cuts in the future. After all, once something like Factoid really exists, who needs teachers?

I really do hope that teachers will become more vocal in expressing the importance of head and hands, of knowledge and skills. I know that their excitement at the prospect of a powerful technological aid to knowledge acquisition was because they could see they might have more time for knowledge application with their students. And I'm sorry if I raised their hopes prematurely by perpetrating my little hoax. I promise it will be the last time I'll attempt such a stunt.

And I do hope Google cut me in on a royalty when they eventually do create Factoid – remember, Do No Evil – you read it here first!




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