Search engines have been a blessing. Millions of lesson plans, tests, quizzes, projects, and classroom decorations are now a few keystrokes away.
Need a quiz for Romeo and Juliet? Bing has 4,620,000 results for you. Need a worksheet for verb conjugation, Google will take you to 105,000 different places. Want tips on classroom design? Clear the next 10 days from your calendar because Yahoo produces 36,500,000 page results.
This has saved many teachers from impending doom. Who hasn't spawned gray hairs worrying late into the night about the quiz that has yet to be written, the lesson plan yet to be hatched, or the vague idea for an activity that has yet to achieve focus?
The Net has been our salvation. It has been our deliverance.
It has allowed us to explore new ideas, new materials and new perspectives instantly. And, unlike the big conferences that charge hundreds to put you in touch with a handful of ideas, with search engines you get millions of ideas -- for free. What was once scare has now become abundant.
Yet, what happens when we, as teachers, become too reliant on it.
Consider Nicholas Carr's seminal piece in The Atlantic entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?
For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded... But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
Here are three reasons why writing your own materials can be better and more productive than any search engine on the web.
There have been nights when I spent too much time wading through the muck and sediment of the internet. With so many results, my online experience turned into an endless stream of clicks, taking me everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.
So often, web surfing jaunts end with a closed browser and nothing to show except a sun-burned brain and feelings of futility. It can be paralysis by analysis. Looking for the perfect study guide ended up becoming a fool's errand. Nothing fit exactly, nothing was perfect.
It took years, but eventually I realized that what I was looking for was somewhere else. It was within me.
Sometimes it is more efficient to close the browser and opening the mind.
As Carr points out, "the net seems to be chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation." While the web gave me access to millions of new ideas, nearly all were given a cursory view. I was not developing depth or sophistication as a teacher, instead I was moving so quickly from page to page, retaining little.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, which provides evidence-based user research, "users often leave Web pages in 10-20 seconds."
Lincoln read as often as he could. Most nights he could be found reading by candlelight. He borrowed books from whomever he could. This was a habit that Lincoln carried with him the rest of his life. As President, he had the habit of waking up early in the morning to spend some quiet time reading alone reading the Bible.
As much as I had this romanticized notion of myself reading deeply and widely on the Internet, it just was not happening. While I went there to better improve my content knowledge and craft of teaching, most sessions became superficial scans with the intention of grabbing content and going.
DIY fosters deeper thinking. Teachers must ponder the essential questions such as, what is my aim? How can I best achieve it? And, what will the students do to demonstrate understanding?
You may have heard that "the best teachers are the best thieves." While that seems to give license to take any good idea from the Internet and use it the next day, what's often omitted is that the best teachers take to adapt. They make it their own. Their borrow ideas and materials, suiting them to their specific needs.
When we fail to make it our own we are guilty not only of plagiarism, we are guilty of inauthenticity. We take work that suited a teacher's specific needs at a specific time and shoehorn our own intentions upon it. We often find the short-term solution, neglecting to ever address the deeper need.
Creating our own materials allows our voice, our style and our identity as a teacher naturally come through.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.