ACS warns of 'Google-Schmoogle' syndrome

NSW Board of Studies told to take heed

"Google, schmoogle," declared Philip Argy, president of the Australian Computer Society (ACS).

Speaking at the National ICT Industry Alliance's (NICTIA) launch of its 10-year Strategic Vision for Australia, Argy criticized what he said to be an often-indiscriminate use of search engine results by the younger generation in their school assignments.

"The Google-schmoogle syndrome is a term that I've invented to apply to mostly kids - and sometimes also journalists - who uncritically copy and paste information retrieved from a Google search into their school assignments and serious reports," he said.

With the convenience of online research in today's world, students in search of information often turn to the Internet as their first port of call.

Unfortunately, Argy said, school curriculums are yet to catch up with the technology, so principles of rigour and intelligent use of online material tends to be overlooked.

Likening much of the material found online to dog-eared scraps of paper handed out by "a vagrant on the street", Argy explained that poor teaching of proper investigative techniques could be contributing to a generation built on plagiarism.

Worse still, students using unverified material in their work are often rewarded with high grades from ill-informed teachers, Argy said.

"We are breeding a generation of uncritical thinkers who don't know how to differentiate between the opinion of one deluded individual, and a well-researched, factual piece by someone who is informed," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's not common sense - people are just copying and pasting uncritically. We need to teach the principles of rigor in research skills and a much more questioning approach to search engine results."

A better education system would teach students to test their sources, investigate a topic, and delve into the background of the persons authoring a piece of information, Argy said.

As part of ACS's involvement with NICTIA's 10-year strategy, the group is currently in discussion with the NSW Board of Studies; Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts; and Julie Bishop, Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, about beefing up teacher training programs.

"They've been quite receptive conceptually; they said this [online research] already forms a small part of the curriculum, but have taken on my view that there needs to be more teaching of critical research techniques," he said. "I think the next generation of teachers will probably get most of it right; it's that intermediate generation that has been initially resistant to this sort of technology."

"Based on what we've [ACS] been doing, we're going to see in a teacher training program, and therefore within the next 5 years, we should see an effect on our education system," he said.

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Liz Tay

Computerworld
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