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Students and the GTS Learning Mentality*

*Warning: Mildly offensive acronyms.

After assigning my students a team project where they had to recommend a social media strategy to a local restaurant of their choice, I had one student email me this message: “I did research and got ideas for stuff in the paper from other sources. I did this because I don't happen to be a social media expert.” I had three thoughts—almost simultaneously—in response to this message.

First, I wasn’t really sure what he wanted—was he asking for help or approval? Was he complaining or apologizing that he had to do research? Second, is there a difference between “getting ideas” and “generating our own ideas”? And third, what makes someone an expert and (okay, kind of a fourth thought), why, as his statement implies, are experts the only ones allowed to have valid ideas? Wait…more questions: How does one even get to the point where one is expert enough to speak? Do we all remain mute until we’re a qualified expert? If we stay mute, how will others know we’re an expert? And so on down a path of increasingly WTF questions (well, at least for me).

I love students. I love teaching. I’m not interested in proving how much smarter I am than they are or seeing how much of my thinking they can regurgitate or mimic. If I had my way, I’d do away with grades and use some means other than grades to measure—no, encourage and reward—learning and effort, critical thinking and trial and error, where the “errors” are just as valuable as or even ARE the successes.

“Figure it out!” as a response from me sends many of my students into a mental death spiral that usually ends up in last-ditch Google searches for “ideas for stuff” from other sources. If I wanted to know what’s out there on the Internet, I’d Google that sh** myself. As much as Google and other search engines and the Internet have opened up the world of experiences and ideas, those resources have made it far too easy to simply search for others’ ideas, put them together like some social media chain of often vapid posts, and call it good.

I miss the “old school” way of doing research—looking up countless books and scanning tables of content and indexes for possible ideas, making up ideas when I couldn’t find what I “wanted” and just got desperate. The made-up ideas may have been silly or even wrong, but they were my own ideas. They could actually lead to something useful, like an expert opinion.

Every gap of knowledge can potentially be filled by a Google-searched answer. What I’m looking for are students who fill in the gaps with their own experiences and ideas—students who solve problems, who think between the lines, who are curious beyond the Google search strings. Dear student, I actually want YOUR thoughts, YOUR ideas, YOUR opinions—you ARE expert enough to have them.

The irony is that, to start this blog, I did a Google search for information about how students use Google. I ended up spending quite a bit of time just trying to think of the best search strings to get the exact answers I wanted (a whole other topic to tackle another time), so I just went ahead and made up my own ideas. Like I’m an expert or something!

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Great article. I felt sympathy for the student as my first impression is he/she doesn't think his ideas are good enough to share (maybe just shy). This, coupled with a severe lack of life experience leaves him with little information to draw upon for advice to someone else. If the student was just being lazy, then definitely hit him with a firm "figure it out". Just because you don't proclaim yourself an expert doesn't mean you aren't capable of thinking through a problem and coming to a potential solution. No ideas are bad ones in a class setting.

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