It is obviously crucial that education adapt to change. The search bee should replace the spelling bee. Spelling used to be a crucial skill for success; it isn’t anymore because of spell checkers. But now the ability to use a search engine is essential. I don’t think I’ve written a single post on this blog without Googling somebody or something.
Yesterday I blogged that the information space is now flat. It is no longer accessed through hierarchies but through links, tags, and search engines. People who can use these tools well have an advantage over those who can’t.
I imagine a search bee as students being given specific facts to find and winning by being the first to find an answer. Obviously each competing student has to be at an online computer. Through a series of elimination rounds, the school or school district, or state school system gets to quarter final, semifinal, and final rounds which would be public events like spelling bees were. There would be live attendance, web cast, and traditional broadcast of these. If school systems can work through their anti-commercial bias, search engine companies would make great sponsors for the search bees.
For lower grades, the questions would be very precise: “What is the first train after 10:00 AM on March 1, 2005 from Oslo to Stockholm?”, “Who first said ‘millions for defense but not a penny for tribute’ and on what occasion?”. For higher grades, the questions should be more complex although that complexity makes judging the answers more difficult.
Before blogging this, I Googled “Search Engine Contest School” to see if I could find some good examples of these contests. Everything I got back was about how to get your web pages a higher ranking in a search engine, a valuable but more narrow skill. So I Advance Googled eliminating items with the word “ranking”. I got one dead link that looked relevant but no real hits.
From this quick search, I don’t think that schools in any number are holding search bees. But my suspicion is that somewhere this is being done. It’s too obvious not to have been thought of before. My interest is more than academic: Mary and I would like to help our local schools teach the critical skill of searching and it would help to have some examples.
So another way to ask a question is to toss it into the blogosphere. If you know of search bees being held or particularly good examples of teaching search skills, please post them as comments or trackbacks to this post.
Of course, there are many other skills that need to be taught if we are going to stop whining about outsourcing and continue our leadership in technology and standard of living. Boolean logic is actually a predicate to excellence in search engine use. Classic writing skills are perhaps now more valuable since they are an entrée to the blogosphere and since we communicate so much by email. Today’s writing, though, has to concentrate on the use of hyperlinks rather than the formal citations I learned in school and needs to include the use of tags.
Information distribution hierarchies used to play a role in qualifying the information we receive. This role often resulted in filtering out good ideas or mangling the information so it’s good that information distribution has flattened (more about that in a future blog). But now we have to know how to filter our own information. Students who haven’t been taught real science can’t filter junk science. Students who don’t know what a false syllogism is can’t spot one when it comes flying out of cyberspace. Ditto an oxymoron.
Our schools need to adapt massively to a changing world. Search bees are one good place to start.