At your fingertips

Using the internet to supplement traditional education

In classrooms all across the country, teachers are posing strange questions to their students as a way of testing their knowledge about a certain subject. The basic formula of these questions is as follows:

“If you had to describe what ____ is and how it worked to someone who has never seen or used ___ before, what would you say?”

The blanks can be filled in with anything, whether it be Maslow's theory, the color yellow, or the human eye. This question proves to be the ultimate test of knowledge, because it requires a deliberate answer that cannot be skated around the way that many creative students have tried to do with more open-ended test questions. This question allows for both creativity and expertise to be displayed, proving it to be a more effective education method than the typical “multiple choice” style questions that leave students eliminating duds to get to the answer, rather than effectively displaying how the answer is useful.

But what about those things that aren’t taught in public or parochial schools?

As many jaded 20-somethings will tell you, there are many life skills that aren’t taught in school that should be. They range from simple habits to skills that require a great deal of practice to master, but each is useful to all of us at some point in our lives. I recently had an angry epiphany while I attempted to mop up a lake in my kitchen when one of the pipes under my sink began spraying water at 3 o’clock in the morning. I called the maintenance man and three guy friends, but because it was a Sunday, everyone was either asleep or substantially inebriated. I accepted that I was going to have to put on my big girl pants and figure it out myself. While I cursed my high school home economics teacher, my cat, Jesus and all of the other assorted deities, I grabbed my laptop and did what anyone does when they have a weird question about real life: I Googled it.

*click click tap*

“How to temporarily fix a leaking pipe”


The screen filled with links from Wikihow, Home Depot, Angie’s List and even YouTube. I clicked the first one and within a matter of seconds got a play-by-play on how to locate and shut off my water meter valve. Within 45 minutes, all was well and I was able to relax, knowing that I had solved my problem until I could get some real help from an expert in the morning.

In all of my years of schooling, I had never been taught the physics behind a pipe. I had received brief instruction while helping my dad build lawn sprinklers when I was a kid, but let’s be real here—I was more excited to hang out with him and that cool blue glue than to actually learn how the stuff worked. While plumbing may not be my area of expertise, I can spout an unusual amount of knowledge about various relationship problems, cooking and caring for sports related injuries. In truth, a person who may be an expert on one topic may not be an expert on another, but we live in an age where technology has made us capable of experiencing something far more powerful than textbook diagrams—something called collective intelligence.

Now, I’ve heard the argument that technology will, at best, make us lazy and, at worst, make us very stupid, but I don't agree. Whenever you log onto the internet, you're put into a room full of collective intelligence and forced to swim through to find your own answer. The basic structure of the *click skim backspace* behavioral pattern that we all exhibit when using search engines teaches us to learn at a faster rate, to absorb and subsequently decide whether or not to reject information based on our current needs and common sense. During my plumbing incident, two of the links looked promising, but turned out to be so heavily ad-laden that I ended up looking elsewhere. This was not because the ads were irrelevant to the topic, but because I was looking for a “how to” not a “with what." The page that ended up catching my eye was the one laid out similarly to the educational question I mentioned earlier, explaining to me (a plumbing newbie) how exactly pipes worked. If I was now asked to describe what I did to fix my pipe and how it worked to someone who has never done before, I could confidently give them a description of my course of action, thereby transforming myself into an expert on my specific situation, even though I did not learn it in school. This new set of knowledge benefits me in my future and may also help someone else in theirs, and that is all because of my access to technology.

Modern technology created more communication than before which often involves much externalized thinking. Interaction now takes place on a very public forum, where those of different knowledge levels can interact with one another, giving multiple sides to each equation, thereby creating a sort of deliberative democracy for internet users to participate in and learn from. Because we have become hardwired to look for answers from others more frequently than from a catalogue of books, we are more inclined to use these types of technology where groups of people weigh in. When you are unable to look something up or ask someone around you for their thoughts, you almost become complacent with not knowing. This is proof that curiosity, a thing that is so vital to our ability and desire learn, shuts down when unstimulated.

So where do we go from here?

The answer is anywhere you or your child would like! They can learn self defense, a foreign language, how to make pet-safe cleaning products, which gubernatorial candidate aligns with family political views, or how to cook. What you choose to do with this technology all depends on what you’re curious about.

By choosing to encourage your family to use the internet to supplement their educations, you are essentially allowing them to enjoy the serendipity and creativity that comes from melding minds with people from all walks of life. Your children will no longer be forced to blindly absorb and later regurgitate knowledge that is placed in front of them like a sponge, but instead learn to weed out information and make informed decisions about who and what to believe. They will become intellectually self reliant and have the ability to learn things from experts all across the globe, whether it be through videos, podcasts, interactive webpages or education specific programs. Each different learning style can seek out something that fits them, making the pursuit of knowledge that much easier and more effective. Tech-based learning will also be self-paced, which allows for the deep pondering and cultivation of true curiosity that is often lost among the sea of deadlines that we are given in a traditional school setting. In the end, we are given all the necessary tools to teach ourselves about things that we love and find useful through a simple click of a button or stroke of a key. We will soon be able to not only understand what we’ve learned, but explain it in a way that teaches others, giving us the chance to contribute to the cloud of collective intelligence and enrich the world in which we live.

We live in a world of information at our fingertips. Will you be the one to excite that curiosity in your child?