Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Just Google It!

The other day I was cutting the lawn and my mower cut out.  The previous time I cut the lawn, it cut out about 6 times ‘for no reason’.  This time, it would not start again.  I asked one of my sons about it – he is a 3rd year automotive apprentice – and he said he’d check it out.  He took a look, tried a few things then disappeared.  Questions signpost in the skyAbout 10 minutes later, I hear the mower start up.  I asked him what he did and he said he ‘Googled It’.  He found an article or video that matched the symptoms of our mowers problem and tried the suggested solution.  It worked!  The gas tank cap wasn’t letting air in so he loosened it off a bit so it could breath then duct taped it for now, so it would work.

We have been interviewing people for some new technical support jobs we created.  One of the questions we ask candidates is to describe how they keep their knowledge and skills current or in other words, how do they learn in this fast paced world of technology.  More often than not, the top answer involves reading web content such as online articles and magazines, usually driven by the need to search out ideas and answers.  Fewer are those that say they have downlaod the e-bookrecently taken a course at a higher education institution, studied to obtain a current certification, or read a book.  It seems that knowledge is becoming more just-in-time and even transient to some degree.  Having been a traditional learner who actually still values classroom or at least course based learning, reading books, and attending conferences, I find myself thinking that the ‘school of Internet’ is a bit lazy.  I think I might be wrong about that though.  Some of the interview candidates shared stories from their work experience of tackling complex projects or problems that they had not previously faced, and learning how to do the work, by ‘researching’ online.  I’m not sure that a traditional course would help with real-time work like this.

It is true that you can find out how to do something, almost anything, by searching online.  I had to unclog one of our bathtubs last summer and the drain stopper was atypical.  I could not figure out how to remove it.  I watched numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) videos on how to unclog a bathtub but none matched the type of drain stopper I was dealing with.  Finally, I stumbled upon a video posted by someone who had the exact same stopper – he said he spent a lot of time, like me, looking for the right video but could not find it.  So, when he figured out how to remove the stopper, he felt compelled to post a video showing the steps so others would have an easier time of it (like me).  Isn’t it amazing that people take time to record sophisticated projects and problem solving with no expectation of anything in return?

There is so much information and knowledge moving online, actually all of it is!  The value of a traditional classroom based education is in question.  By that I mean using the traditional broadcast technology where a person lectures or imparts information and knowledge to others and they are assessed on how well they can recall it later.  The value of a face to face learning experience should probably be more focused on relationships, communication (written, verbal, electronic), collaboration, developing initiative, learning how to think critically, problem solve, undertake research, and learning how to learn.  All content is electronic and perhaps soon all online and free so what is needed is careful guidance, facilitation, mentoring, and coaching to help learners (young and older) access relevant content while they develop important competencies such as those listed earlier.  It is less about what you know (sorry Jeopardy) and more about knowing how to know, relate, care, give, support, think, express, etc. and finding and connecting relevant content as needed.

The power of Internet search grows with every individual search.  “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide” (Nov 11, 2014 http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/).  Beyond search are sophisticated analytics and predictions tools like IBM’s Watson which “has ingested more than 600,000-plus pieces of medical evidence, and two million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials in the area of oncology research. Watson has the power to sift through 1.5 million patient records representing decades of cancer treatment history, such as medical records and patient outcomes, and provide to physicians evidence-based treatment options all in a matter of seconds” (Feb 8, 2013 http://www.mskcc.org/pressroom/press/ibm-watson-hard-work-new-breakthroughs-transform-quality-care-patients).  Watson is becoming the most capable cancer diagnostic ‘doctor’ on the planet.

In this years municipal election there is a candidate, who will remain unnamed here, running for the school board where I live who believes “students need to put down their iPads and smart phones, and learn the way that their parents’ generation did.  We need to get iStock_000022796717Smallback to basics – reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, and learning how to communicate with each other”.  I think she is missing the reality of our age – it is nothing like the previous generation and learning the ‘old’ way will not serve students or adults well.  Sure, there is a lot of off task use of digital devices but that is more of a growing pain in a system that takes an inordinate amount of time to shift gears.  We need to embrace the future while retaining the important aspects of the past!

I am increasingly appreciative of the power of “Just Google it!”, how about you?