In a recent article “Are we Outsourcing our Memories?” Rabbi Aaron Ross, Ed.D. writing in Free Technology for Teachers began his blog post by quoting from a slide that hangs in his office: ““If your students can Google the answer, then you are asking the wrong question.” At almost exactly the same time, and without knowledge of his quote, I posted this on Tumblr:
“Teachers often complain that students can simply look up answers to their questions on the Internet. To that I push back: Then why don’t you make questions that require more skill to answer then simply finding the answer on the Internet?”
Both have similar ideas: If the answer is easily findable on Google, then perhaps the question needs to be reworked for more depth and complexity. After I posted my quote on Plurk, some of the responses looked like this:
So, that got me to thinking about how questions are asked, what makes good questions, the nature of assignments, and a whole lot of other things. I decided to come up with some ways to make your assignments essentially “google proof,” in other words, the answers cannot simply be looked up online and regurgitated back in seconds. Yes, students can probably find some examples of the following online, but by making the content they create individualized, they would spend more time trying to find something original than actually creating it.
Here are just a few ways of Google-proofing assignments:
1. Assignments that require students to create original content 1: Comics
For instance, when learning about the periodic table of elements, instead of giving an assignment where students have to merely define an element and tell you all about it, have them design a comic book character that takes on the super powers of the element they have chosen. Then, create a comic using programs like Comic Life:” The Adventures of Hydrogen Man” for example. Why not a graphic novel where each student takes on an element? Use comics as narrative devices. The information in the comic may be easily found, but the comic itself cannot. Having students create truly original work is one of the best ways to google proof assignments.
2. Assignments that require students to create original content 2: Movies
A self-produced short film is also a great way of having students show great depth of understanding, while at the same time limiting the ability to copy. Many of the skills needed to produce a short film are exactly the skills we want students to have: collaborative learning, story boarding, writing, editing…
While mind mapping products like Inspiration have been around for a while, they are not as widely used as you might think. It is difficult to, oh say, find a mind map of specific things online. (And even when you can find them, the image os sometimes fuzzy.) For instance, it is pretty easy to find an outline or a discussion of the causes of the civil war, it is more difficult to find a mindmap of it. Get a bit more in-depth and the chances of finding a mind map that fits the bill become slim. Refining the assignment even further (for instance the role of Virginia in the Civil War) and the chances of finding a corresponding mind map become slim.
4. Three Photo Essays using Original Photos
A lot of us have taught our students how to find creative commons images on the net to use in assignments. Fewer teachers have taught students how to use thier own images to create a narrative. There is a really interesting iPad app called Visual Poet which allows students to create a three panel poem or story. Ideas like this force students to think succinctly, as well as allow them to use their own creativity.
Here is an example:
5. Change your questions from year to year.
If you think kids don’t know how to copy and paste your worksheets online for the next generation of students coming up then you are kidding yourself. Change your questions. Don’t get caught in the rut of “WOUF:” Write Once, Use Forever. Dig deeper. Challenge the students. It is easy to find trivia answers on Google like “When was the war of 1812 fought?” It is harder to find answers that dig deeper: “What do you think would have happened if the War of 1812 was never fought?” Then next year, change that question to “You are president James Madison’s speech writer and you must write a speech that convinces the citizens we should go to war. What are the major points you are going to write about in your speech?
6. Getting Granular.
The more granular you get on a topic, the less likely the student will be able to find something online. The more personal you get the less likely there is an google answer. For instance, if you ask students to write about Jay Gatsby, the likelihood of them finding information is pretty good. If you ask them to compare Jay Gatsby to say, a living person like Mitt Romney, the less likely you will find information on it. Compare Jay Gatsby to someone in their community…The more specific you get, the more personal you get, the less likely there is a “google-able” answer.
One of my PLN members on Plurk, Laura Sheehy also pointed me towards an old Intel document on questioning skills that fits nicely with this topic. Anyone who has gone through the Intel Teach program knows the idea of the Essential Questions and Curriculum-framing questions.
Some of the questions to ask about your questions could be:
- Does the question require students to answer how and why?
- Does the question help to uncover the subject’s controversies?
- Does the question in some way connect to students’ lives?
- Does the question require students to dissect their thinking?
Those are great starting points for any question you pose to your students, AND they have the added benefit of delving deeper into the topic.
What would you do, or what are you doing to make your assignments “Google Proof?”
Let’s make a list below!