Stupid is an ugly word.

Tuesday marked the first meeting of a group of teachers that signed up for the “School.  Different.” sessions I am leading.  To prepare for the day, I asked them to examine the following list of materials:

Minds on Fire
Reading v. Reading (see comments that follow it too)

Sir Ken Robinson
Kaplan University
Learning to Change, Changing to Learn
Did You Know, 2.0

To course them through the discussion, I used this slidedeck.

One of the slides, the one I used to get them split into their first cooperative group, featured the question that so many have debated this year: Is Google Making Us Stupid.  What I noticed in gathering the material for this class is the vehemence with which people responded to Nicholas Carr’s July article.  Google, what people referred to lightly only a few years ago as a project by some college kids, has truly changed how we find things, and how we expect our information delivered.  In reading this post from Trent Batson, I dug down into the comments and found this gem from John Vieth from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville:

To say that Google and the Web make us stupid because we don’t have to work as hard to do research and find information is like saying books make us stupid because we no longer have to arrange an interview with an expert to gain some of their knowledge–we only need to read the information in a book. Nicholas Carr’s article is just more negative sensationalism a la John C. Dvorak. It’s noise. Ignore it. Come on people. Let’s put our critical thinking hats on. Google and the Web are equalizers. They give information access to people who never would have had it otherwise, and they free our time to focus on problem solving and thinking instead of information gathering.

The equalizing affect of something as simple as a search engine, coupled with increases in internet access via smaller and cheaper devices, is no small matter.  The unsettling fact for many is that information is no longer the property of a select few.  It’s like the Gutenberg effect on HGH.  Jon Becker dropped these three coincidences into the knowledge base the other day:

Newspapers fold as readers defect and economy sours

(CNN) — The Rocky Mountain News, gone. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, gone…At least 120 newspapers in the U.S. have shut down since January 2008, according to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry. More than 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have vaporized in that time, according to the site.

Farewell to the Printed Monograph

The University of Michigan Press is announcing today that it will shift its scholarly publishing from being primarily a traditional print operation to one that is primarily digital…Michigan officials say that their move reflects a belief that it’s time to stop trying to make the old economics of scholarly publishing work. “I have been increasingly convinced that the business model based on printed monograph was not merely failing but broken,” said Phil Pochoda, director of the Michigan press. “Why try to fight your way through this? Why try to remain in territory you know is doomed? Scholarly presses will be primarily digital in a decade. Why not seize the opportunity to do it now?”

MIT makes research available on the web

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty voted unanimously March 18 to make the school’s scholarly research available for free on the internet, joining other noted universities that hope to encourage more scholarship and expand researchers’ audiences…The open-access movement aims to put peer-reviewed research and literature on the internet for free and remove most copyright restrictions. Advocates believe this will invigorate more research across academia.

We are likely to see more of these types of shifts as the nature of how we read continues to change.  This point of Google being a double-edged sword was brought up in the Moodle discussion that has gone on since Tuesday morning’s class.  One teacher has likened the nature of Google and the internet at large to that of the rainforest.  While it contains secrets both known and unknown, it also hides potential dangers in its richness.  How we leverage its offerings is going to make all of the difference.  That’s true whether we are talking bits or bark.


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