Should essay prompts be google-proof?

I came across an interesting discussion on John Sowash’s blog this morning about Google-proofing essay questions. Sowash provides instructions for making questions Google-proof, using Bloom’s Taxonomy. I have mixed thoughts about this approach.

In defense of Google
First, in defense of Google, I think that educators should not discourage Google use, but instead provide guidelines for informed use. If a teacher notices that students immediately type an assigned question or essay prompt into Google’s search, take advantage of a teachable moment. Discuss, say, how different search terms yield different results. Ask students how they choose which sites to read and then discuss strategies for evaluating credibility. Compare sites that provide informative, documented resources with those that are based on opinion, or not thoroughly developed. Draw upon the findings of Leu’s (2007) study of seventh graders and the endangered tree octopus — ask how believable pictures and images make websites.

AP Photo/Herald-Press, Joel Philippsen

AP Photo/Herald Press Joel Phillippsen

Instead of creating walled gardens or entirely banning websites from students use, especially in a research context, educators should empower students to be informed users.

Smarter questions
I like Sowash’s suggestions to use questions that require responses beyond copy/paste or fill in the blank. He suggests asking questions that can begin with a Google search, but then require students to make connections between the materials they find, or draw some sort of conclusion, or move beyond the simple answers in some way. In this scenario, Google search complements students’ learning processes, rather than detracting from it.

4 thoughts on “Should essay prompts be google-proof?

  1. Thanks for the link and for sharing your thoughts on the idea of “Google Proofing” assignments.

    Technology has changed the role of education in that what you know isn’t as important as what you can do with what you know. This idea becomes more accurate as a student moves from elementary to middle school to high school to an undergrad program, and then on to graduate work. It’s the connections between things that create value.

  2. I agree, John, except I think that what we know is still very important. By easing access to information, technology has allowed us to now, as you said, focus on the connections we make between information sources, rather than the finding of those sources. We bring knowledge to our information search tasks that is essential to how we ultimately incorporate the new information we find.

  3. i remember copying out of an encyclopedia whenever i would write a report on a topic…this was probably around 4th grade or so. i didn’t read the info, i didn’t learn the info, i just copied it and pasted it. what i cared about at that moment had more to do with what ramp i could build for my bike rather than what content i was putting on my paper. now 4th graders can use keyboard shortcuts and get to building that ramp sooner.

  4. I agree that “don’t Google” (or use Wikipedia, Sparknotes, or other sites) isn’t particularly educational these days. But I’m also telling my T.Ed. students that the “Write about themes in _________” essay is pretty much dead. For that matter, any generic essay prompt is dead — it’s too easy for students to find pre-fab papers or stitch … See Moresomething together from sites like Sparknotes without doing much reading or thinking. We need to ask students to synthesize, and to produce less-traditional products.

    When I was a high school English teacher, I learned that one step toward “plagiarize-proofing” my assignments was to have specific specs that had to do with what we’d learned, done, or discussed in class, and to require information from varied sources, including primary sources, and to ask for less traditional genres, such as travel brochures, plays, films, certain types of charts, etc.

    But I also learned to require that some of the work be done in class, and I got a mini-grant for Turnitin.com.

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