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Outsourcing Our Memory to Google

Robert Kelly, author of How to Be a Star at Work, made the following observation about the percentage of knowledge the average employee stores in their own mind, versus the amount they retrieve from external sources as the need arises:

“What percent of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind? Or put another way, what percentage of  time do you spend reaching out to someone or something else for knowledge that is essential for you to get your job done?

In 1986, the average answer from responses to surveys or hands in the air at group seminars was that most people had about 75 percent in their heads. In recent years, the percentage has dropped 15 to 20 points, and in the case of one company I worked with recently, fallen as low as 10 percent.”

So how does this relate to our work in higher education? We live in an age in which anyone can access virtually any factoid instantaneously. As I was driving home from work with my 18 year old son the other day, Rush by Big Audio Dynamite was playing on the radio.

I provide it here for your listening pleasure:

Rush – Big Audio Dynamite II

We couldn’t remember who sang for B.A.D. My son grabbed my iPhone, did a quick Wikipedia search and resolved our dilemma in 1o seconds. (In case you’re wondering, the front man for B.A.D. was Mick Jones.)

My colleague David Wiley has been challenging instructors to quit teaching or test factoids that can be found instantaneously on Google. The teacher’s job used to be dispensing information that students could get nowhere else. Now they have ready access to more inforamtion that we dreamed possible when we were in school. Our job now, as Mike Wesch likes to put it, is to make our students “knowledge-able,” not simply knowledgeable. Our job today is to help students find the right information and use it effectively to solve problems.

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  • I remember before when Google is not in existence, it's really hard to look even for simple information. But now, it's a different story. Your just one click away to almost every information that you were looking for. The challenge for the teachers are a bit hard, to think that you're competing with Google who knows almost everything about anything. I think that if there's anything that we can teach to others that's not on Google, that might be the unique things that every persons possessed. I'm referring to the knowledge that you gained through your experienced. You can teach that to anyone who's willing to learn. I'm sure that if you search to Google the experiences that i have, you may find something but your not gonna see everything.

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    I think there's much difference to find the answers before this computer / online age. Before we really need to see that book, or ask the person and put them in, piece by piece before arriving at an answer, but today, you can simply type a keyword / s, then Viola! The answer is right in front of you. This means that the data analysis process and the return journey, people are stronger now.

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  • samwalker

    I usually do research on Google for lots of trivia that I can tell my friends and family, then eventually they're impressed with what I'm saying.

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  • I think that there are so much difference on finding answers from before to this computer/online age. Before, we need to really look it up on a book, or ask a person and put them piece by piece before arriving an answer, but today, you can just type in a certain keyword/s then viola! the answer is right in front of you. This means that the knowledge process and analysis of the people way back are stronger than now.

  • I agree this is a fundamental shift that educators are dealing with and forcing us to rethink a whole whack of current practice (not the least of which is assessment).

    I really like the concept of an "outboard brain", coined by Cory Doctorow. He was speaking specifically about his blog being his outboard brain, but others have picked up and expanded on it to include the web and, increasingly, the devices we use to connect to the web. Clive Thompson at Wired wrote an interesting article about his outboard brain in an article he wrote in 2007 (Your Outboard Brain Knows All http://www.wired.com/techbiz/p.... The line he used that I like is "the line between where my memory leaves off and Google picks up is getting blurrier by the second."

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