Saturday, January 27, 2007

Web Literacy

Image Credit: transcamp

The way we use / read the Internet is different to the way we read/use a paperback. Obvious yes, but is it? I was struck recently by children's over reliance on Google. During a lesson I taught on animal cruelty, I asked the class, how could we find out more about this issue. Almost unanimously the reply was Google. These were Y6 kids, for whom the Internet is their one stop shop for research, knowledge and facts.

But there are dangers, apart from the stereotypical predators and cyber bullying. There is the danger of misinformation, bias and the cut and paste phenomenon. For instance I remember bringing up a colleague who saw nothing wrong in allowing her children to to research Sir Frances Drake by cutting and pasting huge chunks of text into a publisher leaflet. Needless to say the leaflets looked great, but none of those children could tell me anything concrete about the great man. Furthermore, they seemed slightly irritated by this question, so too did the teacher. She told me that they were learning the skills of Internet research and cutting and pasting. Why do we reserve inference and comprehension skills to SATS past papers and guided reading.

Ruth Hammond, Becta's Netsafety goddess, reminded me recently that we used to compare and contrast newspapers in the classroom. analysing their style of reporting a news story. Why, she asked don't we do this with internet pages?

Thank goodnes that the new Literacy framework asks children to read texts on screen and paper. As teachers we have a duty to go beyond the decoding method of reading with website and acknowledg that there are different rules and assumptions that we have to employ when studying a website.

An extreme example of this would be Martin Luther King research. I foolishly asked my Y6 kid to locate information on this great man last year. Thankfully, we did most of this at school. Here there are filters and safeguards, whereas at home they may not have the same tools to protect them. A search for Martin Luther King on an unfiltered Google, would bring up Martin Luther and Martin Luther King . com. One is a hardcore porn site and the other is run by white supremacists, kindly offering free black history resources!!

Further examples (and indeed ones that could be use in Key Satge 2 ) are the Victorian robots sites and the Pacific Tree octopus. Both of these are fictitious yet both are presented in a believable format.

In June's ICT conference we are welcoming the web literacy guru Alan November to the teachers Centre. His work is all about teaching people to use and read the web. I look forward to his message and hope we as a borough sit up and take note.

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