As I worked my way through the “Internet as a Sand Trap” activities in the EC&I 832 Block 6 portion of the online course I’m taking, I discovered that my idea about my personal level of literacy was pretty bang on with the actuality, at least the actuality as determined by the quiz I took by Alan November.

This was a reassuring observation for me to make. I don’t profess to know it all, or even really to know a lot, about the various digital technologies out there and I have been hoodwinked in the past by various internet hoaxes and pranks. It’s easy to find oneself vulnerable or susceptible to falling into an Internet “sand trap” now and again, particularly when one is new to Internet research. But I did take heart to realize that I do have many of the tools and thought processes necessary already to make (mostly) sound judgments about what I see and read on the Internet.

Students typically overestimate their Internet savvy I’ve found and so teaching students how to be smart about what they use the Internet for, to recognize that what they post can be stored online somewhere forever and to be intellectually discriminating about what sources they use for “facts” is a critical part of my job as an educator, particularly since I’m an educator that uses the Internet as  a delivery mechanism of course content.

I really enjoyed Alan November’s quiz and the foundation for an excellent unit/lesson on Internet safety and digital literacy can be built from the questions and answers found there. In fact that is one of the key areas I plan to revamp in my Information Processing 30 class, using Alan’s materials as well as others I have since discovered.

Another really great website I found with a variety of resources for a large selection of Internet learners and users can be found here at Cybersmart – Internet and Mobile Safety Advice and Activities. There are cybersmart quizzes that use scenario types of questions to teach kids, teens and adults about Internet safety. It is a great site and I plan to use it in my courses as an additional resource.

All in all I found that while I know the “basics” of Internet safety and digital literacy, there is always room for improvement and that only through continual practice and interaction with these sorts of materials and cautions will I remember to be discriminating in what I read and use to back up my own opinion on things. The Internet is continually evolving and thus, so is the information on it. It’s always a good idea to think critically about what it is we read, to question who is saying what, for what purpose and is the information based on “fact” or opinion?  Too frequently do our students (and instructors as well I ‘d argue) take what is written on the Internet as indisputable fact without asking any of these sorts of questions.  This is the biggest sand trap on the Internet, in my opinion… one that needs to be avoided if at all possible. However, if students do find themselves swinging away fruitlessly in the midst of one, then it’s up to the instructor to help them learn the proper way to get back onto the green!

I also believe that it’s not enough for schools and instructors to “forbid” sites on the Internet. I firmly believe it’s our job to model appropriate uses of technology. That is the harder task but it’s a crucial one.

This week’s class session discussing the social media literacies of contemporary learners and instructors as well as the pros/cons of internet blocking has me thinking in a number of different directions all at once. On one side we have the issue of instructors wanting to use social media in ways that benefit their learner’s learning and teach them to be discerning consumers and purveyors of media. There are a number of skills and competencies learners need to polish and acquire to be able to do this successfully. In response to Alec’s reflective question for the week: ” What are the new media literacies, and how should teachers and/or schools address these?” I’d have to say that teachers need to help their learners to:

  • Discern and discriminate: I believe this needs to occur in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, learners need practice in evaluating the value/authenticity of web based content (is the information reliable? How do we know?) as we all know that anyone can publish anything on the web at any time and not a word of it needs to be truthful. The web is rife with examples of false information, much of it intended to be satirical or entertaining. It’s a mistake for teachers to believe their learners automatically can tell the difference from reliable information based on substantive fact from opinion driven inaccurate information that may bear little resemblance to reality.

Secondly, learners also need practice in determining time and place-appropriate activities. For example, it may not be appropriate to watch streaming videos of friends doing some sort of embarrassing or dangerous stunt on YouTube during class time. Though it certainly could be appropriate if one was participating in a safety class of some sort. Appropriateness is often determined by the contextual situation at the time. It also might not be a bad idea to encourage students to establish a “professional” digital image/reputation for school/work based networking and perhaps maintain a separate one for social contacts. I personally have only one FaceBook account, one YouTube account, etc. and I don’t have a separate identity for school/work/home because I enjoy the overlap and there is nothing I have posted on any of these sites that people from different contexts of my life couldn’t see. (General rule of thumb for me:  If my daughters shouldn’t read it, I shouldn’t write it and post it, but that’s just my take on the issue.)

  • Appropriate and Attribute: I believe learners need to become proficient at viewing published content, seeing it with their own perspective and world view and be able to take it, mold it into something new and fresh and yet be able to attribute the original idea to the original creator. That takes a skill set that takes time and patience to encourage and require of learners. It can seem a daunting and frustrating task when one receives paper after paper filled with “appropriated” content and not a word of attribution from learners. (Whenever I have an essay due for class, I emphasize over and over the necessity of proper citation of sources, and provide many “how to” lessons and yet there seems to always be a couple of learners every semester who hand in something someone else wrote and published on the web with no citations. I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar phenomenon for instructors around the world!)

There are many more competencies that could be addressed and I think a lot of them could be slotted and categorized under the broad ones I have mentioned above. I think that schools and instructors need to become minimally proficient at these skills themselves first, before they can be reliably counted upon to instruct learners in how to do this. Though,  for a great many of the skills that learners will need to acquire to become media savvy creators and re-mixers of media, I think the learners have an expertise advantage over a large number of instructors out there. I’m sure that’s pretty intimidating for many instructors to consider, the idea that learners have more media skills than they do in some respects. It’s not at all threatening to me as an instructor though. I love to learn from my students because then the instructional pattern in the classroom becomes something engaging for everyone concerned. It becomes more transactional and reciprocative in nature and I love to be more of a facilitator than a “font of knowledge” for my learners.

This all leads me (eventually) to the topic of Internet Blocking. I despise the current trend I’ve observed in many K-12 schools to ban wholesale any and all social media sites from school-based computers. YouTube blocks in particular bother me immensely. I use YouTube video clips in ALL of my online courses that I design and teach and when I have learners unable to access these instructional and educational resources, it becomes frustrating for both me and the learner involved.

I have to wonder what it is we are really saying to young people when we blanket forbid things and don’t expect them to filter appropriate content for themselves. For me, the message is something like this: “You aren’t to be trusted; we know what’s best for you better than you do; the Web is a collection of smut and dangerous content.” Maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but it’s close and it’s not a message I want to endorse, either as an instructor or as a parent, frankly. I believe we are doing our learners a tremendous disservice to plunge our heads into the Internet sands here and just “ignore” social media tools that COULD possibly be abused and misused by anyone. Where is the education in such a stance? To me that speaks more to fear than to anything else. (Plus anything forbidden automatically becomes more desirable and attractive, doesn’t it?)

I absolutely LOVE the link Alec posted on the EC &I 831 wiki, the one leading to Bud the Teacher’s blog. His response to teachers requesting Internet blocks is bang on. I plan to pass this along to others as he has encapsulated so many of my beliefs and thoughts on the issue of internet blocking in a clear, non-confrontational and eloquent way.

The bottom line for me is that my job is to educate learners in the best ways I can. I believe that by helping learners become more discriminating and better able to judge the value and accuracy of information, to be able to attribute it properly, to be able to take information and reshape in ways that are meaningful for them and how to share that vision with the rest of the world, then I am doing my job. If I teach fear and loathing by blocking off the flow of information and media, then I absolutely cannot teach and encourage appropriate internalization of control.