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.
6 thoughts on “Source: Google”
I really like your point about the benefits of “organized learning” in a class setting. I agree that learning about the principles of a subject area allows learners to better organize and model their thought processes, and gain an understanding of context or situational relationships. I think while the Google search engine and Wikipedia are good examples of connected learning platforms, learning happens in many different ways. But, more effectively, when we can contextualize or rationalize information.
Hi Efon & Haniyyah,
I enjoyed your blog/response this week. Learning on one’s own is important, but so is the face to face interaction. It’s the part that is most special because it helps round out our knowledge by having a person/persons to provide that context.
So Haniyyah, I wanted to empathize with you, too, have felt the pressure of having to teach myself how to use software since starting back at graduate school and it’s not easy! Especially when you’re hunting down how-to’s and trying to figure out what’s a good lesson/forum & what isn’t. (But you did better than me because I walked away from R at the last minute because I was too overwhelmed by doing that and everything else I had signed up for that semester.) BUT, I was smiling the whole time I was reading your story, because as I was reading your words I could see all the different skills you were learning and practicing through that exercise and all of that makes you a better scientist. We can’t just be told what we should be doing or should know, we learn by doing & from sharing this experience with each other. So the joke is we learn so much from “Google” but it’s true!
I had the same experience when I started my PhD. The more senior grad students would joke that they were actually getting degrees in how to Google.
Thanks for commenting that:
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.
I agree. I too greatly appreciate the people, especially those in the coding community, that have taken the time to give direct feedback on how to solve particular problems. The knowledge sharing is so important because it removes the redundancy of having to take the time to figure out an answer on your own. The questions are often so specific that they are not covered in a class. However, someone else has usually already worked out a solution.
I love what you said here: “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.”
The people behind the information is something I rarely think about when I go to google for answers. My thought process is, “if this solution works, great. If it doesn’t, on to the next suggestion.” The wealth of information available online is amazing, and I often take this for granted.
Thank you for pointing this out. I really love lectures and I always do my best to never miss one. But what you have experience with your R course is a scenario that many other students have also experienced as well in many courses unfortunately as we could hear last week in class. I think that these kinds of situations happen with professors who maybe do not know what learning outcome their course must have in their students’ studies, works and live in general.
Just read this, but my favorite part of the “New Culture of Learning” article was the section called, “Teaching in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” because it shows the students doing exactly what you mentioned here: becoming part of the conversation. They became so involved that they felt they had personal stakes in historical happenings. These kids were actively engaging with something they could have easily searched on Google, watched a video about on YouTube, gotten the minimal amount of information needed to pass their quiz/test/report/whatever, and gotten the heck outta there, but they didn’t. The problem is finding the magic formula to make that happen.