The “Googling the Error” section of the “Arc of Life Learning” chapter in Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning resonated with me the most this week. Possibly because these days I am Allen and he is me. I was not always this way. When I arrived at Virginia Tech as a graduate student in June 2017, my fellow lab mates suggested I learn the program R as this allows for graphing data in the format my advisor prefers. Apparently Excel graphs are deemed a bit unprofessional in the world I only recently became a part of—who knew? I saw that there was book available to teach all there was to know about R, thus I asked if this was the best way to learn the program. I was a new graduate student eager to learn things the “right way”. In summary I was told “No. Just google anything you need to know.” They were not wrong. Even after taking a class in my department which essentially teaches R in the context of environmental sampling and monitoring—still not wrong. I would absolutely argue that the class was helpful for two of the reasons Robert Talbert lists in “Four things lecture is good for”: modeling thought processes and giving context. However, now that I am beyond the class and actually to the point where I have my own data to work with, it is nearly impossible and time-consuming to search through the course material for the specific file which contained a specific example of how to change the range on the y-axis. I try, I really do—primarily because I want to actually make use of what I learned and the work I put into the semester, but my priority is producing results not holding on to principle.
In the same section of A New Culture of Learning, a passage caused me to reflect on my understanding of what we discussed last week: “by ‘googling’ the error, he was able to tap into—and learn from—large, diverse networks of programming and hobbyists who all faced similar issues.” Networked learning. But the thing is, I often overlook the people in the process that comprise this network. Often, Google is viewed as this omnipotent being that has all the answers. Too many times I’ve seen people cite Google Images (not even going to talk about Wikipedia). In reality, Google is simply a search engine that directs us to questions and answers provided by real people. When I “google the error,” I unfortunately don’t make any attempts to be a part of the conversation. I get my answer and I get out. Really, I should be more grateful to all the people who were helpful enough to take the time to answer questions for people like me and of course, the brave answer-seekers.