Web Awareness II

I think that this week’s topic touches on something that’s always been important whether it’s in a digital sense or not, and that’s the idea of critical thought. There’s no doubt at all in my mind that people have become even more gullible since the advent of the internet, but all throughout history it’s been the case that people have a tendency to believe whatever they’re told. In some ways I have to wonder if it’s not some sort of Occam’s Razor complex where it’s simply easiest to believe whatever information is presented rather than have to exert energy to contemplate it. There’s also a certain extent where we’re indoctrinated into it; just look at the way that politicians operate. The world is full of people who believe that Elvis lives on Mars, that airplanes are poisoning angels with chemtrails, and that their way of worshiping “God” is the right one. And let’s face it, we’ve all gotten a bit outraged over an Onion article that we’ve read before realizing that we’ve been duped. The fact of the matter is that it’s all too easy to either maintain misguided ideas that we simply don’t want to let go of, or get tricked into believing something that’s just not true simply because it comes from an unreliable source that we trust as reliable.

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Anyways, I think that the matter of promoting critical thought is a very important one, and not just through digital means. In social studies, for example, I think it is an important matter to analyze things like election promises from various politicians and ask whether those promises had ever been fulfilled. In English, we could take a closer look at advertising and break down how it work. In science, we should look at issues such as how climate change is seen in the realm of politics and then the financial reasons why it’s been ignored. These are just some ideas, but this is one of those ideas that I think is among the most important to be addressed in schools, but it ends up being turned into something more along the lines of this:

critical-thinking-cartoonOne idea that I’ve tampered with in my head is to warn my students ahead of time that I will purposely add small pieces of misinformation to my notes and that I want them to find the errors for me. As much as I don’t care for bonus marks, I think that would be a decent incentive, but I also have to wonder about the morality of purposely lying to students about the content, even if i do intend on correcting it. The reasoning behind this would be to force the students to realize that just because something comes from a source that you trust (in this case the teacher), it doesn’t mean that it’s always reliable.

Now as for digital citizenship, I feel like I’ve written full books on this issue by now. On the whole, I would say that I agree with Douglas Rushkoff for the most part. He basically says that although the internet is largely a place of anonymity and disconnection with our real lives due to it being an out-of-body experience, we should encourage our students to use it in a way that makes it a part of and extension of themselves. For the most part, this already happens; a Facebook profile, Twitter account, World of Warcraft character, etc. will become a part of the user’s identity and as such, it will become part of their image that they care about. If your character gets a reputation for stealing all the best loot in a raid, then very quickly no one will want to play with you anymore. If your website promotes hate, then it could very easily get petitioned or banned inside particular circles. If it was bad enough, then it could make it way back into your real life and have very real consequences, such was the case when Justine Sacco posted an ill-thought-through tweet (see the image below) and ended up getting fired for it.

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It’s the illusion of anonymity online that brings out the worst aspects of people, and the reason is the idea that because the things that you do online can’t be traced back directly to you, and as such, there will be no consequences for the actions taken. I feel like one of the best ways to address this in school is through interactive video games. In something like Mincraft Edu, the teacher can monitor chat, student activities, and watch for poor behaviour which can in turn become teachable moments. This can also be accomplished through social websites and web projects. The fact of the matter is that it needs to be an ever-present and ongoing theme in any classroom, just as social behaviours in the real world are. It’s certainly not a one-week lesson, but a life-long one.

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Web Awareness I

Digital Citizenship is a big deal to me. I plan on incorporating a lot of internet use into my lessons wherever I end up teaching, and I feel that in many ways (as a self-proclaimed denizen of the internet and also as a teacher) that it falls under my purview to make sure that my students are practicing safe surfing. The problem of course, is where do I start? It’s such a broad topic that setting out to address these matters is far from a small undertaking. I think that first and foremost that an immersion in the internet in class is crucial. It’s not simply a matter that can be brought up as a lesson one day and then left at that; unlike long division or potential gravitational energy theory, it’s a societal issue and one that deserves long-lasting attention. By suffusing these ideals throughout the length of a semester, it will be easier to ingrain positive web ideals into our students.

I think that a set of rules for internet use is crucial for within the classroom, and even more so that there’s discussion around them by the students to make sure that there is understanding there as to the reasoning behind them as well as the outlines of the rules themselves. By understanding the reasoning, the students should be more likely to practice safe internet use even when it’s not in the classroom.

I also think that using case studies and real-world examples are important because it makes these things more relatable to students when they see that there are consequences. There will always be that aspect of “it always happens to someone else” that must be combated, but that’s never going to entirely go away.

The way that I feel is the best way to present the matter of others online is to break it up into three categories:

  • The people that you know online and in real life – Friends from school, family
  • The normal people just like you online – Fellow users of Twitter, Facebook, Reddit
  • The people who are out to harm you online – phishing, predators, viruses, thieves

There can be overlaps, and these are very broad topics, but these can be broken down into further discussion discussion about the implications of the things that we say and do online, from writing a hurtful comment to providing enough information that someone could guess an online banking password.

Overall, the goal should be to get our students to think about what they’re putting online and how it affects them and those around them. There are tools such as this website to measure your “digital footprint” which can help to prove the point, but as long as our students at least consider what they’re doing online, then it’s a step in the right direction. (Pun intended.)

On the topic of filtering school websites, I’m pretty much against it. I recognize the good that can come of them, but I also know that there are times when I’ve found perfectly innocuous websites that are banned for some reason under the school district. I also feel that there comes a level of freedom of speech and respect for choice with it. I agree that many websites are not appropriate for school, but as McKenzie (1996) states, “When is it permissible, if ever, to shape the flow of information to support certain “truths” over others?” There should be consequences when students blatanly misuse school internet services, but there can also be potential teaching applications in many blocked websites. Also there’s the question of, “When has hiding something from children ever effectively saved them from it?”

Cyber-bullying is its own giant can of worms, although just like offline bullying, it ties back to many other means of respecting others, but with an added element of anonymity and the power that comes with it online. In many ways, that illusion of power is what causes so many online problems and addressing it is one of the best things that we can do for teaching web awareness.

In regards to being a teacher, our online presences can really be summed up succinctly (in my opinion) as follows: Be professional. When anyone is working in the public eye, we need to keep the appearance of professionalism by necessity. We’re all individuals and we all have images that we want to uphold, often different ones to different audiences, but as professionals, we also need to act like professionals. An unfortunate example of the consequences are the recent events surrounding Calgary MLA Deborah Drever. (http://globalnews.ca/news/2012342/controversial-calgary-mla-suspended-from-ndp-caucus/) In order to teach our students web safety, we need to recognize it in our own practices first. (I mean, I suppose you don’t have to, but then we’d just be hypocrites.)

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