Four things every student should learn … but not every school is teaching

By blocking access to social tools in the classroom, and not teaching students what constitutes socially and ethically responsible behavior online, schools are shirking a key responsibility, he said, adding: “Facebook might be blocked in your schools, but kids are still going to go home and use it.”

3. The permanence of information posted online.

Students are often careless about what they post on the web, November said, because they mistakenly believe that once they delete the information, it no longer can be found online.

But that simply isn’t true. To demonstrate, November opened a page on his web site, November Learning, and showed participants that it no longer contained an article from a few years ago. He then surfed over to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit initiative that indexes the internet for posterity, and typed the expired web address of the missing article into its Wayback Machine. Up popped the missing web page, preserved for anyone to see.

“When I show this to students, I get a collective gasp,” he said. “They don’t know the web is archived every few days.”

If you don’t show this tool to students yourself, November warned the assembled educators, “you are missing an important lesson” that could save them from ruining their lives.

4. Critical thinking about the information found online.

How many students understand how Google sorts and ranks its search results, November asked? Many students assume that the web links appearing at the top of their search results are the best, most reliable sources of information about the topic, but that’s not necessarily true.

The two main criteria for whether a web site appears at or near the top of Google’s search results, November said, are (1) whether the search term appears within the web site’s URL (web address), and (2) the number of links coming in to the source from other web sites.

“In other words, it’s nothing but a popularity contest,” he said. That might lead to a reliable source at the top of the results page—or it might not.

Today’s students too often accept the validity of information on web sites that appear within the first few search results, November said, without thinking critically about these sources. If you’re going to teach anything in the Information Age, he said, shouldn’t it be how to find, evaluate, and use online information critically?

“I think we’ve missed the information revolution in this country,” he said. “I can’t think of a single more important skill than being able to tear apart information on the web.”

(Editor’s note: For additional insights from Alan November’s presentation at FETC last month, click here. And for more news and information from this year’s FETC, click here.)

Dennis Pierce

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