Friday, November 6, 2009

Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom's Taxonomy

The internet has revolutionized information collection. The answer to virtually any question or problem is at our fingertips. Google has made this possible.

While I am a great admirer of Google and an avid user of its products, in a way, Google has made my life as a teacher a LOT more difficult. Let me explain. In the "old days" (that would be pre-internet) when a teacher assigned a worksheet with a series of questions on it students had a few options to get the answers.

1. Ask mom.
2. If mom doesn't know, ask Dad.
3. If Dad doesn't know look it up in the textbook.
4. If the answer isn't in the textbook, give up.

Now I am a teacher. When I give worksheets with questions on them my students immediately type the entire question into the omniscient search box on Google and in an instant, they have their answer. They have expended absolutely zero energy or effort to find the answer and as a result will not remember the question or the answer.

There are two solutions to this problem:

1. Ban the use of Google by all school-aged children.
2. Learn to write "Google-proof" questions.

Through extensive research and investigation I have come to the conclusion that option number one will prove to be an ineffective strategy. Therefore, we will proceed with option number two.

So, what is a "Google-proof question?" It is a question that can not be directly answered via Google (or any other search engine) because it requires, analysis, interpretation, and investigation. Writing such questions can be challenging. A helpful tool is Bloom's Taxonomy.

Bloom's is arranged into six different levels of questioning ranging from knowledge (the simplest) to evaluation (the most complex). It is only the top two levels, synthesis and evaluation that can be considered Google-proof. The verbs associated with these two levels include "compose, create, construct, rate, evaluation, design, appraise, argue, and assemble." Here are some sample questions that would fall into the analysis and evaluation levels of Blooms:

1. Rate the importance of the parts of the cell from least to most important.
2. Construct a graph to display the cost-benefit data of three types of biofuels.
3. Design an experiment to test the consumption of oxygen by germinating seeds.

These questions can not be Googled. The web will be a very helpful resource in collecting information related to these questions, but search engines will not lead to easy answers.

We are in an age of information. Storing facts in our brains is a pointless exercise (unless you plan on being on Jeopardy!). In the era of the iPhone, any fact, statistic, or desirable piece of information is only a few clicks away. The skill of the 21st century that will set people apart is what they can do with the information that is available to them. What new products, services, or procedures can be improved, created or derived from the information that we have? Knowing is not as important as using.

Google has made my job as a teacher a lot harder, but I'm glad. Now I have to think of new ways to challenge my students to evaluate and synthesize information.


  1. John: Another way to attack the problem is to use Google Books. Add a few books with full or limited preview to your Google Library and use the ideas suggested.

  2. Hi there ... since your students are keen on technology, perhaps also introducing the Bloom's Digital Taxonomy will motivate them more to blend technology with higher order thinking skills AND google-proofing. I also use the updated Bloom's which now show "Creating" as the top HOT skill.'s+Digital+Taxonomy

  3. Hi, I'm just a mom and love the new technology and ability to access information almost instantaneously. Having said, I worry the effect it will have on our children. For example, this past summer my daughter took a supplemental Reading/Writing class because this is an area of weakness. In the class, they were required to read a book and then "discuss" it. Made sense to me, back to to break down a book. She needed it and I was relieved and praying that this would help her. Until she told me that the teacher gives them a certain amount of time to read and then posts a "discussion question" on the computer....? Apparently, the kids were all given laptop computers as they come into the class and "discussing" a book is done via the computers. 13 kids in a class, discussing a book, and no one is talking. Great. Help my daughter dissect a book but take away her ability to communicate effectively. It's bad enough that they communicate via text messaging. Needless to say I was crushed.

  4. Your concern is understandable. I am a great champion of technology which enhances education however I clearly understand (and teach) that technology must support effective instruction, it is not an end in itself.

    It is important for students to learn how to express themselves digitally as it is also important for them to express themselves verbally from one person to another. You can not nurture one at the expense of the other.

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. It is always good for groups of educators to hear voices from outside our "circle." I hope that you will contribute regularly.

  5. I guess I would question "Anonymous'" belief that having an online discussion is any less powerful as a teaching strategy as face to face discussions. Take away their ability to communicate effectively? What?

    In the 21st Century, children are going to need to understand how to communicate with people from around the world through the written word. Granted, it does seem somewhat useless to have them in a room together and not discuss the book f2f; I think I might have had them express themselves online and then opened the discussion up for oral commentary.

    I have found online discussions to be powerful and extremely freeing for those students who will not open up when placed in a f2f situation; particularly teenagers. We need to change the way in which we look at learning in the 21st Century. I hate to burst the bubbles of millions of adults but the world is changing...get use to it.

  6. Someone very smart once said, "I never try to memorize something I can write down or look up."
    I think this is totally appropriate to today's learners and Google-proofing assessment questions will go a long way to prevent the useless memorization of facts that are now available at our fingertips.
    We definitely need more and better ways to get those facts into play, though, so that the HOT skills can then be utilized effectively to allow true engagement with the learning to occur.

  7. Our digital learners are learn and participate differently. Even in a small group of 13 students, reflecting on a book, there will be more than a few in the group who will not speak because they are fearful. However, by posting a comment or replying to a comment, there is pride that their comment is valued, they had time to be thoughtful and then write their comment , they are published- that word goes further than their teacher, and they can speak out and reply anytime of day. This is a powerful concept for our young writers.
    The Google it! mode of education today will force all educators to let go of the notion that we hold the keys to knowledge. We are facilitators of knowledge. If a question can be answered by Googling it, we should not be asking that question. That is rote memorizing which our computers do quite efficiently. The computer gets the A+. However, when we ask the kinds of questions that John suggests, we lead our digital learners to the kinds of thinking, creating and uncovering of material where answers are thoughtful, reflective and tested. Great discussion!

  8. I like the topic of discussion for the issue that it raises "google proofing", or in general, the habit of copying an answer from someone else. The approach of moving the "assessment" into higher realms of Bloom's taxonomy seems valid. As if to say "yes, now we have had a revolution and information is only as far as your fingertips. You don't have to memorize it, but you must show that you can think about it". My company has written a set of assessment/communication tools for students and teachers that run on ipods and cell phones. The challenge for us has been to design tools that are compatible with assessing "higher order thinking", It is more challenging that it seems on the surface, and comes back (as always) to how the question is designed.

  9. The answer to "Design an experiment to test the consumption of oxygen by germinating seeds." is one of the tops results on Google.. so I guess this is not exactly Google proof question is it?

    But I do like the idea of Google proof questions..

  10. I like how the Mom with the daughter with the "weakness" in reading and WRITING can't understand how having her daughter WRITE her responses is helpful in a class on reading and WRITING.

  11. Well put!\

    I'm an advocate of the open exam/test. Let students refer to any resource or person they can locate, but ensure the questions/challenges require that students apply their found knowledge in unique ways.

    Here's how I put it a few months ago:

  12. Thank you for your post on Google-proofing. I am always seeking to ask those higher level questions in my science classes, and in fact, have Bloom's Taxonomy as a bulletin board in the room with the words "How Are You Thinking". It never occurred to me to rewrite the web-quest and research tasks with the same approach, and it makes so much sense. Thank you for sharing!


  13. Great post and excellent graphic. Data is such a buzzword in education. Perhaps a better tool is wisdom. Students need to develop wisdom and educators need to use wisdom in their decision-making.

  14. I'm finding some real challenges at a new post where I am teaching anatomy alongside a veteran teacher who has been honing his methods for 20 years. Anatomy is one class that can lend itself very well to lots of rote memorization, and my colleague is worried that I am jeopardizing the strength of the program by focusing less on memorization of anatomical landmarks and more on interpretive questions. One could argue in a subject like anatomy that you need to do a lot of memorizing before you can even get to the higher level thinking. Would be interested in other opinions.

  15. I love your blog- thanks for sharing. What strikes me is how much better your post google questions are for students. Wish i had used those when I taught biology in 1990 (even w/out Google :)

  16. This may or may not have been posted earlier.

    But I do not believe you can Google proof a question. There may be an anwer to the Google proofed question if a student has posted it.

    Also, if you have to Google proof questions, then there may be something wrong with the picture. The more important thing would be to find out why the students are not interested in bettering themselves academically or personally. What are we missing? How can we spark thier interest to learn? How can we help them to love to learn? Is it understanding, lack of confidence or something else? Once we can get at the root of problem, then maybe we may not have to Google proof questions.

  17. Hi John, great post, I wrote about your post at last week.

  18. John, You raise some really interesting questions. To me, the question is how to make the technology transformative or value-added. My daughter's school is full of smart boards, and my dad (college professor) thinks smart boards are cool, but I can't see how they are being used in any way that makes kids learn more or think differently. So why pay for them?

    In some subjects, memorization is essential--does having a Spanish game on the computer help kids learn vocabulary? Maybe, if you are a kid who likes computers, if you have access to computers.

    Your point about google-proofing is a good one, except that really we probably want to emphasize those analytical and creative skills anyway...

  19. As a high school English teacher, I appreciate the information being posted here. There are plenty of valuable tools and perspectives.

    I do take issue with the (apparently) widely held conclusion that memorization has become essentially a useless pursuit. What many do not seem to understand is that memorization is not just about the acquisition of data. It is about the process involved in said acquisition. There are cognitive functions that are developing in the adolescent mind. The implicit processing, sorting, and categorizing that occurs during memorization is even more important than the information itself.

    To glibly dismiss the value of memorization just because information is easily accessible is to succumb to a dangerous sort of complacency.

  20. Great post; lots to chew on...and chase.

    Ultimately, Google is not the issue (although it's existence and semantic familiarity do help draw our attention to the underlying questions), and thankfully you shift our attention quickly to Bloom and what it means to really "ask" the right "question," as well as what it means to "seek" the possible "answer" (or resources to synthesize a probably/workable solution).

    Long before Google showed up as the shiny 21C kid on the block, we've intuitively known that real world learning is not based on cleverly packaged and repetitive answer sets. We know this. But 'school' as a systemic model demands 'practice' for the real world, thus predetermined 'practice' answers are the currency of choice traditionally.

    Why? Sure, it's easy to kick the "factory model" whipping boy in the shins, but let's be frank as to what really perpetuates the issue of "Google-proofing" one's classroom: we teachers.

    We often crave (whether the system/district demands) easy-to-grade/evaluate check boxes that validate 'our' estimate of what we think a student should learn to validate our expertise/focus.

    If, however, we value the process of learning (esp. its non-linear/messy DNA), then Google is NO threat; in fact, its a vital colleague as our students (and ourselves) seek catalysts leading them towards eventual understanding.

    If this Google-proof concept has any long-term, substantive value, it is to remind us that Google is *not* the issue. It is us. The teacher. The guide. The sherpa. The supposed 'expert' that our students dutifully follow into the learning process, the one that so often - unintentionally - stands in the way of true learning as our students are arrive perfectly equipped to do before we ever lay out the first multiple choice answer set.

    This post also reminds me -- in spirit -- to what underlies this post:

  21. LOVE the mother who bemoans child's writing ability, but criticizes use of blogging. What does she want? Stone tablets?

    This made the rounds on Twitter today.Among the best comments:
    "Oh, yeah? Well, Google has teacher-free learning."
    "I can't imagine they'll stay that way long."
    "Question 1: What is your favorite color?"
    "How funny/sad. Tests on information so obscure, it couldn't possibly ever useful to you."
    And the favorite:
    "Retire already."

  22. How funny! While American teachers limit their student's abilities, the rest of the world helps them to grow in the 21st century. Given a choice I know which one I'd rather hire, and it's NOT the one who can name the capital of Nebraska

  23. Great post. As a university student I definitely use Google to answer many questions asked of me.

    I used to think memorization was not as good a way to know knowledge as was understanding of the big picture. However, studying in Asia has changed some of that opinion. Many of my asian classmates are extremely good at memorization because that is what is emphasized in education here. The teacher tells you what to think and you memorize what the teacher says and then regurgitate it back onto test sheets. In the west teachers "facilitate" learning and emphasize critical thinking.

    Currently I see benefits to both methods. I am a way better presenter and critical thinker than many of my asian counterparts because my education has centered on figuring stuff out and finding a solution. However, my asian classmates are way better at Calculus and language learning because they have such a strength and skill in rote memorization techniques.

    I see benefits to both sets of strengths. Certainly some subjects are better suited for a memorization method of teaching while others are better suited for a critical-thinking teaching style. Both are important though and I think both can enhance learning of all subjects. The problem comes when one method completely overtakes the other and there is not a dual form of learning done by me as a student.

  24. Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.

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  25. Interesting idea but I wonder why are you still using an outdated version of Bloom's?

  26. Your point about using higher level questioning is a good one. Being able to rattle off a lot of facts isn't useful unless you can combine them in new ways and apply that knowledge. I would argue however, that this is not something that should be happening just because it is easier to find answers now than it might have been BG (Before Google). As teachers we should have always been asking students to answer higher level questions.

    As an aside, your third question is easily Googleable. I pasted it directly into the search box and found a variety of labs posted that were experiments designed to test the consumption of oxygen as seeds germinated.

  27. Interesting opening...good the point. In my opinion, the issue isn't so much that our students can find the answer on the internet it is that we are pushing them to answer more complex questions on Bloom. I think as more educators instill this into their regular teaching practices and homework assignments we will only help our students prepare for life and help our country be competitive.

  28. John - found your blog via the Tech & Learning email re: Google. I'm a Business Ed grad student. At first was wary of your "no google" idea, but then appreciated your re-thinking the problem. Yes, this is an excellent way to help students use 21st century skills to use higher order thinking. Your writing style is very practical and helpful.

  29. In my opinion, it is the worksheet itself that is the problem.

    Rather than require written answers to 'Google-able' or 'non-Google-able' questions, educators should be leading students to apply their learning; and to share their responses beyond paper...

  30. 1 Ask mom.
    2. If mom doesn't know, ask Dad.
    3. If Dad doesn't know look it up in the textbook.
    4. If the answer isn't in the textbook, ask a friend.
    5. Google it. If it isn't on the first page of results, give up.

    My point here is that while Bloom's is an awesome tool, we can't completely take away any responsibility for the student wanting to learn. Search engines are getting to the point where you can even google high order thinking skills. What do we do then? Create higher order thinking skills? No, we expect integrity from students to do the right thing and assume some responsibility for not getting to the answer in an inappropriate way. In the "olden" days it meant asking a friend. Today it means going to Google.

  31. I have had some success with getting the students themselves to use blooms to write some questions. After they have had some introductory information on a topic I ask them to use a particular blooms level to constuct a question each on the topic. Obbviously the students have already spent some becoming aquainted with blooms before the task.Then as a group we review all the questions, eliminate any that don't work or are too similar and then they vote, or I choose the question everyone will answer.Yes, there have been some 'dud' sessions but in the main this has worked well and the level of questions developed are usually 'google' proof.

  32. Your blog was very interesting.Google has truly became a reliable source when it comes to asking certain questions and getting the answer, but I don't think it should be banned for school age students.

  33. Hello, Anonymous, I think you've missed the point. We don't need to ban Google, we need to stop asking questions that can be answered by doing a Google search.

  34. Very interesting blog!

  35. I loved your blog--you were honest about the topic and your own teaching. Google isn't our problem. It is easier to point fingers than to take the blame. You made me stop and think how I could Google-proof the questions I give my students. I have to be honest--I was the student in college who would type in the question and look for the answers. My entire Calculus II answer key was posted online. Knowing the answer isn't important... it is more important to know how to do it. I agree, storing facts in our brain is pointless! Why is so much time spent on doing just that in schools nationwide? How do we get our students to be synthesizers and evaluators? How did you make this change in your classroom?

  36. This is a great plan. I actually recommend a similar kind of routine when you get stuck at a certain strength level and want to be able to work through it. It really works well.

  37. I love your ideas. Great post.

  38. Perhaps this question of Google-able answers should lead teachers to reconsider the nature of assessment in the first place: in what situations is it appropriate to use technology to answer questions, and when should they not? As a math teacher, I find it difficult to allow for the idea that memorization is useless. There are so many situations in which rapid recall of basic computation is crucial. Incredibly, being able to do math in your head *can* be faster than doing it on your phone...

    That said, I have no problem with allowing kids to use the internet to investigate applied uses of math. The assessments that count, however, are done in class, usually without computers, and often using document-based inquiry, in which students have to read and evaluate multiple sources of information and apply that information in finding their answer. But regardless of how well I write an assessment, the important part for me as the teacher is to model the behavior that I want them to produce. How can we expect kids to not follow the path of least resistance if we don't show them other routes?

  39. You have noted very interesting points ! nice website .

  40. I'm not sure students have the vocabulary skills to use Google as a true resource. They type in the question, copy the response, and turn it in. When I ask questions that aren't in Google I get a bunch of idk, blanks, or Jesus is the answer. That's typically how I know I've came up with a test question that's not in Google. When students give me obvious Google responses, I start asking what words mean that they used, but we never discussed.

    I guess my thoughts are simple. I wish students would use Google as a resource, but dig deeper into what they find. Don't be a scribe and copy the answer verbatim. I try to get my students to look up videos or examples of how to solve problems. I'm afraid that if I completely Google proof my class, my failure rate will be astronomical. The other problem is how do I assess opinions? The question about the ordering organelles in order of importance is open for debate. Plus, as soon as one student posts the question online looking for answers, other students will copy the best answer or the top answer. I've thought about making my entire class a series of research reports or lab reports. But, they can always pay someone to write the paper.

    1. Good thoughts, David, thanks for sharing! You are correct, students don't always demonstrate effective research and critical thinking skills, but that's why they are students under our care! Our job as educators it to put our students in situations that stretch them beyond their current abilities.

      Regarding your concerns about grading opinion oriented questions, I understand your concern, but I think you are missing the point. The goal of questions such as "which organelle is the most important" is NOT about getting the right answer (there isn't one) it's about observing the process through which student form a conclusion. The process is more important than the final answer. I would require my students not only to answer the question, but to justify their answer with logic, evidence, etc.


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