Jun 272011

I admit it, I read the funny pages first thing on Sunday morning. Okay, maybe I should first admit that I have a daily subscription to the newspaper and read it cover to cover every day. But, on Sundays, I read the comics first.

Yesterday’s Doonesbury was an instant classic in my mind, worthy of my comics wall. Here is a link to it. I will wait while you read the whole thing. … … …

I know, right! They nailed the problem with memorizing random facts in only 5 panels. The other 3 are there just to be funny and set the mood, but panel 3 and 7 are the set up and punch lines.


The three panels in between show Zip’s friend asking some random questions on science, philosophy  and history, along with the fractional seconds it took Google to spit back the correct answer.

I took an informal poll last year in my class year, and around 50% of the class had smartphones that could access the internet. The rest of my learners could text questions to Google and get answers back (they had texting, most of them did not know they could do that) and all of them knew about Cha-Cha.

So what are the “Profound questions about what it means to be a student?” Here is my weak attempt at listing some.

  1. In an era where every learner has never known a time when information was not immediately findable, why do we (teachers) spend so much time asking learners to memorize formulas and facts?
  2. The comic makes an implicit assumption that faster is better. Is that correct? Is it important that a learner memorizes a fact and can recall it on demand, even if that means more time?
  3. The other assumption Zip makes is that Google or Cha-Cha are more accurate than his own brain, memory, understanding. Is that correct? I know I have asked questions in my classes and some learner says, “Why should I do that, I will just Cha-Cha the answer.” My response was, “Go for it, get your phone out and do it.” [That shocked the heck out of him, but he did it, and Cha-Cha failed!]
  4. Is there a middle ground? Can there be vital things they need to memorize, important things they don’t, and less important info they can look up?
  5. Is the goal of the lesson understanding (in the context of UbD) or rote memorization?
  6. Finally, what evidence is necessary for demonstrating the difference between the two in 5?

I think Doonesbury fit very nicely in my current PLN content discussions. Now it is time to do something about it.

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