Schools are missing out on important opportunities if they fail to teach these lessons, says ed-tech consultant Alan November.

Schools are missing out on important opportunities if they fail to teach these lessons, says ed-tech consultant Alan November.

An awareness of the views of those in other countries, an understanding of how Google ranks the results of a web search, a knowledge of the permanence of information posted online: These are some of the lessons that every student should be learning in today’s schools, says education technology consultant Alan November—but not every middle or high school is teaching these lessons.

November was the featured speaker at a Jan. 14 luncheon session during the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. Although the session focused on how to balance safety and learning in the digital age, during the course of the discussion November also revealed several topics that he said every member of the Net Generation should learn:

1. Global empathy.

November said he was talking with a senior executive at a global investment bank recently, and he asked the executive: What is the most important skill for today’s students to learn so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?

“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different points of view.

Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.

It’s not hard to find people who are smart, the executive said. What is hard to find are employees who have to ability to empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries.

Fortunately, November said, technology makes it easy for today’s students to learn global empathy. Students can discover the current social and political conditions of other nations online, and they can interact with their peers from abroad and learn their perspectives on issues firsthand through web conferencing or eMail.

2. Social and ethical responsibility on the web.

Topics such as cyber bullying and sexting have made frequent headlines in recent years, and often with tragic consequences. The latest example occurred in western Massachusetts last month, when a 15-year-old freshman at South Hadley High School committed suicide after being harassed online.

With several states passing laws to address cyber bullying, and a new federal law requiring schools to teach internet safety in order to receive e-Rate funding, many schools now highlight the dangers of inappropriate online behavior as part of their lessons.

November weighed in on the importance of these lessons, calling out schools that neglect to teach online responsibility.

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.)