Learning in the Web 2.0 World
Just as basic literacy means more than just decoding alphabetic symbols, digital literacy involves more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device; it includes a variety of technical, cognitive, social and emotional skills which users need in order to function effectively in a digital environment. As educators we need to teach kids the skills required in this context:
Graphic literacy, Navigation, Context, Skepticism, Focus, Ethical Behavior --these have become survival skills for learners to participate in knowledge-construction tasks in a digital environment.
- Graphic literacy – thinking visually: The nature of literacy is changing; it includes not only text but also symbols and visual images or icons that make up graphic user interfaces. Students need to learn the language of screen literacy and to develop the skills to understand the instructions and messages represented visually.
- Navigation – developing a sense of Internet geography: The hypertext environment of the Internet is a powerful learning environment; however, users are faced with many challenges. Hypertext environments provide students with a high degree of freedom in navigating through large amounts of information, but also present them with problems arising from the need to construct knowledge from large quantities of independent pieces of information reached in a non-linear, unorganized manner. Transition from linear to non-linear environments requires users to develop thinking skills that are characterized by a good sense of multimedia spatial orientation, simply stated -- not getting lost when you click from one website or page to another. Students, ages 7 to 12, who worked on the International Children’s Digital Library development team, for example, understood this issue and initiated the design of a screen reader, the Spiral Reader, so that users would have a “sense of place” or visual context while reading a digital book.
- Context – seeing the connections: A hypermedia environment encourages non-linear exploration, but unfortunately it does not provide a context to critically investigate a subject. Unlike a printed book that contains a table of contents and an index to assist the reader to delve deeper and understand the relationships and connections among sub-topics, Internet resources are viewed out of context. Students often collect lots of independent pieces of information with no depth to their inquiry. Hypermedia environment encourage broad accumulation of information, but not necessarily deep exploration. Sometimes students link only to resources from one website which might produce the quantity of information needed but could also present a narrow, biased glimpse of a subject.
- Focus – practicing reflection and deep thinking: A digital environment offers a multitude of distractions and tends to fragment our attention. When a task is difficult, we naturally tend to succumb to these distractions, and when sitting at a computer they are not only easily available but enticing — checking email, Googling, iTunes, instant messaging, etc. Deep reading and reflection are necessary for associative thinking, synthesis and understanding. We need to address these issues and find remedies to guide students to focus and think deeply.
- Skepticism – learning to evaluate information: With the rapid growth of information, the ability of users to evaluate and use information competently is a key issue in developing digitally literate students. The need to evaluate information is not unique to the digital age; it has always been part of the information literacy curriculum. Not surprisingly, the criteria needed to determine the quality and credibility of online information are identical to those required for evaluating information found in other forms of communications: accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, relevance, and coverage of scope. However, it takes on urgency because of the sheer quantity of information produced daily and the lack of safeguards that publishing houses provide with print media. Students need to develop a sense of skepticism and hone their judgment skills when locating Web-based information to detect erroneous, irrelevant or biased information.
- Ethical behavior – understanding the rules of cyberspace: Students need to know how to use technology responsibly and thoughtfully, as well as, how to protect their safety, security, and privacy online. Ethics and citizenship in cyberspace includes respect for digital property; an understanding of the special privileges and responsibilities of online communication; and the critical thinking and decision making skills to manage one’s actions in cyberspace.