Guest Post – Are We Outsourcing Our Memories?

From time to time I give people a chance to guest post on Free Technology for Teachers. I put out a call for guest posts back in June and this is the last one from that series. If you’re interested in guest posting in the future, I will be putting out a call for posts again in October. 

in my office is a slide that reads “If your students can Google the
answer, then you are asking the wrong question.”. This pithy aphorism
expresses the ever-more-widely-held view that as teachers, we should not
be spending our time drilling reams of facts into our students. In an
age of Google and smartphones and iPads and wifi, our students can
instantly and enjoyably find out all of the minutiae that we want them
to learn.  Rather, we should spend most of our instructional time
focused on imparting either skills or deeper analysis to our young

contrast, there is a debate in the Talmud over what type of individual
should be appointed to lead a congregation.  Should the community search
for someone who possesses vast stores of knowledge, or should they
instead turn towards a leader who has remarkable analytical skills?
 After some discussn, the conclusion reached is that the individual with
the greater knowledge is preferable, as people need someone who has the
ability to draw on what he has learned in order to answer their
questions, not someone who will answer their every query with another

first blush, these statements do not seem capable of existing within
the same world, or at least within the same educational framework.
 Should we be loading our students down with facts in hopes that we are
giving the proper tools for leadership, or will their adult lives be
best served by being able to think critically?  In some sense, there are
several reasons why the fact-cramming approach seems to be somewhat
passé.  Many of us perhaps recall school as being an endless procession
of reading and memorizing, much of it in subject areas that did not
interest us in the least.  The increasing popularity of flipped
learning, blended learning, project based learning, and all of their
cousins has put a stress on the teacher’s role in stimulating critical
thinking skills.  And, of course, there’s ample research that cramming
information is among the worst ways to learn something for long-term
recall purposes.  Seemingly, the days of the Jeopardy champion as hero
and role model are behind us.

the other hand, it strikes me that there is something to be said for
accumulating knowledge, and not via Google.  In order to analyze
material, you need to have material to analyze, and the more that you
are working with, the better your analysis can potentially be.  One of
the true joys of being a lifelong learner is seeing how different
strands of one’s education continuously overlap and come to bear on one
another.  Additionally, before you can Google a fact, you need to know
what you are searching for.  We look for new knowledge in context,
trying to add one fact at a time to our existing knowledge base,
hopefully in a way that helps us to keep our learning organized in our
heads.  To my mind, that is a major role that teachers play – pointing
to students towards new knowledge in a way that makes sense and in a way
that will allow them to retain that knowledge and be able to access it
for future use.

who is right?  Should we allow Google to serve as our outsourced memory
bank while we spend our time engaged in creative and analytical
intellectual pursuits? Or should we aim to acquire as much knowledge, as
measured in raw facts, as possible, in the hopes of creating solid
foundations for future learning, plus the occasional know-it-all who is a
good teammate for Trivial Pursuit?

sense is that the two statements that I began with actually balance one
another, and hopefully provide us with a healthy and even-keeled
approach to take as the educational pendulum continues to swing away
from the fill-them-up-with-facts approach and towards the
make-them-think approach.  There is no question that our students need
to learn facts, and lots of them.  The question is how we are going to
go about getting all of that information into their heads.  Are we going
to lecture at them all day, and follow that up with simplistic homework
or other assessments that merely ask them to fill in blanks?  If that
is our approach, then we may as well just teach them to use Google well,
as we are ultimately not even teaching them the information that we
want them to know.  However, if we teach our students basic material, or
even more advanced material, and then have them review it in a way that
not only forces them to repeat and rehearse the information, but also
requires them to give it serious thought, in a way that Google cannot
help them, then not only will we create students who can think, but also
students with vast and useful funds of knowledge.

About the author:
Aaron Ross, Ed.D. is assistant principal at Yavneh Academy, a K-8
Jewish day school in Bergen County, NJ.  He is currently very involved
in spreading the adoption of project-based learning approaches in Jewish
schools, and is an avid techie.  You can follow his blogs at, and you can follow him on twitter at @rabbiross.


Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!