Sunday, January 17, 2010

Internet Resources – Helpful or Harmful, Not Just for Education

The Internet can be an invaluable resource in education but must be used with caution and awareness. Learning is now not just confined to the walls of the school building. Students can work collaboratively with other students not just in their own school but in different schools and countries. Lessons can be enhanced utilizing additional articles and websites that present topics in real time using actual audio, video, and print. Questions that arise during the course of the school day may be answered by simply doing a Google search. But, what constitutes a high-quality search? Typing a few key words and looking at the first few websites may arrive at the desired answer but may not be enough.

Like many things, all information on the Internet is not created equal. Everyone needs to realize that just because it is on the Internet does not mean it is true. Students need to develop a set of research tools that can then be utilized when evaluating the information found on the internet. Only after proper education in how to evaluate websites will the Internet truly become useful in education. Unfortunately, many teachers do not possess these skills themselves and often rely on their own knowledge of a subject in determining an acceptable, Internet research based project.

It is not acceptable to simply allow the students loose on the Internet to research any given subject. Students need to be able to determine what a quality, fact based website is and what is simply a website based on opinion and not verifiable. This is not to say that opinion based websites cannot be used as a useful educational tool. The use of Google Advanced Search is a way to narrow down a search to information that may be useful in any topic. Boolean connectors can further reduce the number of websites by filtering out information that does not add any additional information to the topic being researched. Finally, students need to be able to distinguish the difference between verifiable information and what may simply be another student’s work that has been uploaded to the Internet.

Finally, students need to understand that the Internet is not a replacement for textbooks and other print materials, but an enhancement of those resources. While the Internet provides us with real time information, it is posted so quickly that it may need retractions and editing to be verifiable. As long as we teach the students to be aware of the infallibilities inherent in the use of the Internet, it will continue to grow as an invaluable educational tool.

The following web links may be helpful in using the research methods mentioned:
Google Advanced Search
Boolean Connectors
Methods for Evaluating Websites

4 comments:

Craig A. Cunningham said...

Nice post, Alice. Teaching kids to distinguish reliable from unreliable sources of information is, indeed, something that schools need to focus on. Equally important is giving students guided practice in using social networking sites appropriately. But schools have, largely, stepped OUT of that arena, allowing kids to "learn on the streets." I consider this a mistake, but right now am not feeling optimistic that schools will soon find a way to become more engaged in that aspect of kids' lives out of school.

Sharing with Sherry said...

I would agree the Internet sites need to be reliable, that is the biggest challenge. However this provides a great opportunity for teachers to encourage students to use critical thinking skills. Teaching in a middle school I have become aware of the fact that students are not used to evaluating information. This is a life long skill that students need to acquire, and using Internet sites to apply the skill is valuable. I would like to see this critical thinking skill transfer to networking sites because some students are not making wise decisions when it comes to posting comments and pictures on the Internet. We need to address this issue in school and educate students about the long-term consequences of posting inappropriate comments and pictures to the Internet. It is unfortunate that schools seem to be turning a “blind eye” to this issue, and it is the children of today, the future of our country, who will have to deal with the negative choices that are making today. My hope is that educators will realize the importance of educating our students about the Internet and it will be used as the tool it was intended to be.

Mr. Granger said...

See, I disagree that the internet isn't a replacement for textbooks. And the issue of incorrect information on the internet also applies to textbooks. I've seen several examples of incorrect information in science textbooks, especially.

The amount of wasted money on textbooks that go out of date in a few years is ridiculous. There are plenty of good resources available online that could be used instead of textbooks. But, as I discussed in my post, the ubiquitous access isn't there to make it feasible to use the internet that extensively.

Even if we could, there is always a place for good tradebooks and other print resources. But the interactivity and instant feedback available on websites is invaluable to learning. How will this be paid for? If districts and states abandon traditional textbooks, will there be enough free stuff left or, will everyone start charging to get a piece of the action? That's an issue to explore further. However, there are some organizations working to address it. See the link below for curriki.org.


California Open Source Textbook Project
<a href="http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main/>Curriki.org</a>

Mr. Granger said...

Curriki.org