We all know how much students depend on Google to link them to information from all over the web. But what would happen if the search engine actually turned into the resource? Case in Point: the Wolfram computation knowledge engine. Sounds a bit more fancy then Google already! But Wolfram, the bringer of all things Mathematica, is shying away from media pressure to label his knowledge engine ‘the thing that killed Google’, and I can see why. Both serve different purposes.
Changing our approaches
Could this change the composition of our information streams? Could it impact upon the way we use learning objects in education and the rate at which we feel the need to keep reinventing the wheel? And how about the nature of instruction? Does it have the potential to change the way we teach and assess? For example, could you see yourself directing your students to Wolfram to help them test their understanding of the Darcy–Weisbach equation? How about a course in nutrition using Wolfram to provide students with information on the nutritional value of foods (e.g. cheeseburger). Or what about economics students using Wolfram to quickly compare the GDP of Brazil and Ecuador or astronomy students checking how far the Milky Way Galaxy is from the Earth today?
Reliability of Information
If you’re worried about the reliability of the information, why not get your students to do some research on it? One activity that comes to mind is:
Phase 1: Have students look up a collection of statistics or historical facts on your subjects of choice using Wolfram.
Phase 2: Instruct them to cross reference the results with those published in other sources to see how the information compares.
Phase 3: Ask them to discuss the implications of the discrepancies in the information generated from this and other popular search tools, and consider why they think inconsistencies exist.
It could be a great activity to develop information literacy and research skills that incorporates a mixture of the old and some of the newest ‘bleeding edge’ technologies around today.
The challenge here is in the way we use our minds to conceptualize the information we want to generate from this type of tool. It’s not just about finding information about ‘a topic’. It’s about the relationship of the information you’re looking for right now. And if this tool really does enable us to access information that’s only a few seconds old, maybe we have to reconsider the way we understand ‘accuracy’ of information? The relationship of information that was ‘accurate’ two hours ago may look different now.
Does this also imply a need to change the way we reference our sources? Until now, it’s been sufficient to note the date on which you accessed a specific article or webpage. Are we now going to have to note the time as well?
Today the BBC discussed the recent alpha launch of the project. Public reaction includes comments on the engine’s ‘ability to do calculations, conversions, translations and other comparisons with linguistic data’ and on the way it has given information seekers ‘new ways to find and compute data‘. Let’s see what we can do with it in education! Consider that a challenge 😉