UnGoogleable questions again

Photo by Steve Wheeler
Recently I posted a challenge in response to a question about lack of student engagement. It was to solve an unGoogleable question. Google (and other search engines) are used every day by academics and students alike to find content, and more often than not, to answer questions.

It's no surprise then that many think that everything can be Googled. But they would be wrong. There are many questions that cannot be answered by simply going online and Googling.

I blogged this in that previous post:
One of the remedies for lack of engagement is to present students with a wicked problem to solve, or an irresistible question to answer. Some teachers have said to me that everything is searchable on Google, and that it doesn't take students long to crack such challenges or questions. My response is - oh really? You're probably asking the wrong questions then! I'm going to argue here that there are many questions that are unGoogleable. I wrote about this idea 5 years ago, when I discussed some of the issues around the nature of knowledge and knowing. There were several responses, many of which were searching and considered about the role of teachers, the process by which we come to know and the function of technology in education.
I posted an anatomy question that had previously stumped many medics and experts, and argued that if they are challenged, then students would be even more challenged, to go out and discover the answer. But this is just the starting point. Just like Wikipedia, we can use the unGoogleable question to create a launching pad into more serious enquiry. It becomes a gateway question that engages students in seeking deeper learning around the topic in question.

Here's the question:
One of my favourite unGoogleable questions has been posed to audiences across the globe, and specifically to medical colleagues. No-one has arrived at the answer without a great deal of thinking, searching and analysis. It is this: In the normal human body, what do each of us have exactly five of?
Eventually someone came up with an answer - the are 5 lobes in the lungs - 3 on the right side and 2 on the left. But that's not the end. Good answers should generate new questions. So why is this part of the human body asymmetrical? The answer is that it is because the heart is slightly inclined to the left, and then the next question is why is this? Then there is a chain reaction of further, deeper questions. This draws the student into a deeper investigation and appreciation of the cardio-pulmonary system, and in the process, they become more engaged in questioning, discovering and conjecturing. 

Interestingly, someone then complained that now we had discussed this unGoogleable question online, it was now no longer an unGoogleable question. But that is the entire point of this kind of method of learning. Engaging in this process amplifies knowledge, sharing it across the web, so that everyone can benefit. Why keep learning to yourself if others can benefit. Go out and create another unGoogleable question!

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has discovered unGoogleable questions within their own discipline. Please take this opportunity to share them in the comments box below. 

Creative Commons License
UnGoogleable questions again by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Martin King said…

I love this idea Steve ... for some reason it reminds me of Blimage

Any question is Google-able ... Google will provide something .. although there have been times when "Your search did not match any documents". I am missing the point of course .. its not that there is no Google answer but that the answer is up for negotiation.

Rather than simply searching Google now suggests based on a whole load of factors about you and where you are etc.

Google can be used wonderfully in the exploring and negotiating of knowledge.

Look at the different answers you get .. go to page 10 and page 100 etc
Look at the different answers different people get
Look at the different answers you get when you use another search engine, another browser or another identity.

Steve Wheeler said…
Yep, good points. I suppose my argument extends to encouraging students to also ask the right questions, because after all, we learn more from questioning than we do from receiving answers.
Martin King said…
Yep ... me too

In the expected era of AI the creativity of asking questions (science & art) will be so important for humanity and education should adjust ... I am pessimistic that the system can make this type of radical paradigm change ... it will need to happen elsewhere ... in a parallel system or something .

There I go getting all pessimistic again ... but with a hint of optimism (outside the system).
Steve Wheeler said…
I think I'm as pessimistic as you about life 'inside the system', but perhaps I've become jaded by the same old 'same old' from the last 20 years working in HE. I think we can afford to be more optimistic though with the age of digital disruption already upon us. We can expect to see some amazing things happening in the next decade or so. I think the tipping point for any large scale adoption of new technology is when it is already common. place in the home. What is slow to change is the pedagogy/assessment/curriculum design that should be foremost in 'the system', but I think new technology might drive some changes too. We shall see...

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