How do I solve problems today? It is of course much different than when I was a kid. I was fortunate, maybe not so fortunate, to have lived through the full transition from no/basic computers to smartphones in my lifetime. I remember being in a classroom without any computers and one day having one computer for the class to share separated from other classes. Eventually, we had a computer lab, I am sure it was a relatively novel idea at the time but it was always really exciting to have a “computer day”. Since the technology was so new, and the ways of teaching with this technology was not as evolved as it is today, we often just went into these computer labs to play games (Crosscountry Canada!) or practice our typing. Now every student practically has a laptop, with 1 to 1 and BYOD models popping up everywhere. It is practically a right to have access to a device that connects to the internet. You could go as far to say that without a connected device a student today would not be able to finish school.
A New Way to Learn
With access to information at our fingertips the way that I now approach problems are much different than 10 year old me (aside from the cognitive development of course). When I look at questions now I automatically Google or search for a YouTube video to find the information that I need, the “Google Reflex” if you will. Even with new tasks, I can still draw upon the information that is available on the internet to help guide me. This has maybe even blinded me in false confidence at times. But the ability to find any piece of information or fact I need is, and I don’t say this lightly, awesome. Indeed, it is awe inspiring.
As a collective are we doing our best to help students learn this new wave of problem-solving techniques. At this point in time, I no longer need to teach most students how to do a mathematics problem, I just need to teach them how to look up information that will allow them to do so. As radical as this statement may seem it may have more truth to it now more than ever. I will, however, concede that some students do need to have someone by their side walking through problems with them.
Can It Be Taught or Does It Have To Be?
Now comes a new problem of teaching students the “Google Reflex” or maybe more broadly the "Internet Reflex". It may also be entirely possible that students will learn this automatic habit (Googling) on their own, millions of other people have. But could we potentially teach these skills to students without having them spend years trying to figure it out on their own, to say streamline the process? Get them to YouTube concepts instantly?
It is also entirely possible that students today will already have some form of the “Internet Reflex”. Technology companies make it easy. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) in these programs is becoming better and better. With the advent of Siri, Google Assisstant, and other platforms we may be entering the next phase of technology integration. Eventually, we may reach a point where the AI already knows what problem I am trying to solve, it does already know what I want and my own habits better than I do at times. Maybe the fundamentals of this new type of problem-solving for students exposed to technology is already there, naturally. We may just need to help them better aim and target what they want to find out.
The whole process needs to become automatic in the classroom. It is often we see that classrooms and the outside world are disjointed. Students play by a different set of rules in a classroom, by the teacher’s rules or someone else rules. On the outside, they already use these problem-solving techniques. When they get stuck in a video game or want to know about a YouTube celebrity, the list is endless. We just need to make it so that they use the same mechanism in an academic learning context, something that is not automatic. Help them see how the way they use technology has many different ends. It allows people to accomplish different goals based on how they want to use it.
It would be interesting to see a continuum for problem-solving in this technologically augmented age. Could we indeed figure out a proper framework and identification methods to help students reach a level where technology becomes a core part of their problem-solving repertoire? What is the interplay between cognition, technology, and problem? I look forward to trying to find out some of these answers.