So Your Students Think They Know How To Google?

by Gabe Baker, TES Content team

When I was a teacher, a common lament from my colleagues was that “students just Google everything now.” After the school launched a one-to-one iPad program, some teachers enthusiastically pursued a “no Google” policy. My experience in the classroom certainly showed that yes, students will happily turn to Google for all manner of questions, but the fact that students “Google” things wasn’t, and still isn’t, troubling to me.

I search on Google all the time to learn more about the world and find answers to my questions, and so it seemed strange for me to forbid my students from using it.


I wondered: if my students could use Google to get answers that were oftentimes far more comprehensive than those I could provide, why would they need to spend the entire school day with me? I think this question is a great one for all teachers in internet-equipped classrooms to consider -- it’s not one of these easily “googleable” ones, either!

This was my approach: when I posed  questions in my class or homework that were easily “googleable” (e.g, what does the Latin word amare mean?), I encouraged my students to Google it. The rest of the time, I tried to make my class revolve as much around questions that weren’t so easily “googleable.”  Some examples: Why is Latin, of all the things I could be doing, important? Why is this Catullus poem so wonderful? Was it right for Brutus to assassinate Julius Caesar?  More concerning to me than students Googling would be students who were only being exposed to questions in class that were easily resolved by Google.

I found that my modest success as a teacher still hinged on my domain knowledge (total Latin nerd), but my role was more about posing the right questions and helping students learn how to investigate for themselves than it was about being a fountain of answers. Given that my students were going to be using Google, they might as well learn more about how to make the most out of the Google search ecosystem.

Sure - some of the ways students use Google is indeed concerning. Many assume that a definitive answer to any question can be found on the first page of Google search results, and they don’t have a great sense of how to evaluate the merit of one page versus another. Some students aren’t sure how to formulate their search in order to get the results they want, and few students understand the wealth of search options that Google makes available besides the basic web search. Given its ubiquity, it’s also a shame that few students have a basic sense of how Google works (a nice primer you can give them can be found here).

All of these issues can be remedied, though, and I think being able to use Google or other search engines effectively is a key component of digital literacy. Digital literacy is interdisciplinary - students can use their digital devices, and Google, to help them learn in any subject. Let’s take it upon ourselves to make sure that students use Google effectively when they use it, understand the breadth of the Google search ecosystem, and also are aware of its limitations.

I’ve made a free resource available in my shop that introduces students to some clever ways to use Google search to make results more specific. It could be used as an activity in class or as homework. I recommend using it in class as a group-work activity, because some of the questions lend themselves to discussion.

I also made a free resource that introduces students to Google Trends, an incredible part of search which allows students to see how the rest of the world uses and has used Google search across time and space. This resource may be particularly relevant for social studies teachers who like to have a current events component of their course.

I think these resources could be useful to teachers and students of any subject, especially those in schools that have laptop or tablet programs of any kind. Feel free to leave some feedback on TES, and follow me on twitter @gabrieljbaker.