Are Google and Wikipedia Alone Sufficient?

Delving deep into Larry Sanger’s article titled Information in the Internet Age, Lauren Marchelletta and I sought to foster discussion around 3 key points presented by Sanger:

  1. Instant availability of knowledge online makes memorization obsolete
  2. Collaborative learning is celebrated as superior to individual learning
  3. Static learning through books is inferior to knowledge co-constructed by a group

As we prepared for the discussion, we discussed a variety of tech tools which would allow participants to construct an understanding of each side of the debate through hands-on activities. Lauren and I decided to utilize tools such as FlipGrid and Google Slides to find the learning “sweet spot” where technology, pedagogy, and content (TPACK) overlap (Koheler & Mishra, 2008).

To get started, we presented a statement and asked each participant to record a short video using FlipGrid. Without any background knowledge, we asked the group to consider if they thought the co-founder of Wikipedia would agree with the statement: The availability of information on the internet makes background knowledge/memorization of facts obsolete. Using FlipGrid to gather responses took less than 5 minutes to gather and was an effective way to hear all the voices in the room without putting anyone in the spotlight.

To simulate the advantages and disadvantages of googling answers versus personal experiences, we chose to model this in an authentic setting by taking advantage of a recent trip to Queen Maeve’s Tomb. Two peers went on the trip, experiencing the tomb first-hand with a guide while the other two did not have prior knowledge of the site and relied on Google for answers. In pairs, they created a slide to demonstrate their thoughts.

While viewing the slides, it became clear that there were pros and cons to using static knowledge from the tour and using search engines to locate information. Both groups uncovered the purpose of the grave in their presentations, but the Knowledge group focused on the function of the tomb while the Google group created a list of facts and datesShared about the purpose and function of the tomb. While not completely confident of the age of the site, they did share details about the reasons for such a large tribute to Queen Maeve

This activity made it clear to the group that both knowledge sources are important for understanding. Together, we reached agreement with Sanger that core background knowledge is critical for understanding what we read on the internet and it will never be obsolete. As the conversation continued, we transitioned into a thinking strategy called Jot Thoughts. Each participant considered the pros and cons of book learning and social learning as jotted their thoughts down on post-it notes.

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In conclusion, participants agreed with Sanger’s worry that social learning is praised by society, but lacks any depth of understanding. Sanger is concerned that “in the place of a creative society with a reasonably deep well of liberally educated critical thinkers, we will have a society of drones, enculturated by hive minds, who are able to work together online but who are largely innocent of the texts and habits of study that encourage deep and independent thought. We will be bound by the prejudices of our “digital tribe,” ripe for manipulation by whoever has the firmest grip on our dialogue” (2010). The key to avoiding this inevitable end is to promote asking big questions as Warren Berger advocates in A More Beautiful Question (2014), encouraging a liberal arts education, and a well-rounded core knowledge. As we wrapped up our discussion, all participants felt that schools must continue to strengthen students’ ability to generate questions, pursue answers, and develop critical thinking skills which will allow them to pull from static knowledge from books and filter this through social learning opportunities to drive their understanding of the world.


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Eds.) Handbook of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) for educators (pp. 3-30) New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Retrieved from

Sanger, L. (2010, April 15). Individual knowledge in the internet age. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(2), 14-24. Retrieved from

All photos are my own.

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