ON NOT TEACHING INTERNET LITERACY TO KIDS
Much as I love the internet, I have real reservations about teaching internet literacy in elementary school before literacy has been mastered. In part this is because no matter how many pictures and movies and songs are available on the net, and no matter how many bells and whistles web sites have, the net is still, first and foremost, about text; if kids can't read well, the net is just as effectively closed to them as if the computers weren't there.
Another reason is the kind of mind created by reading, as opposed to the kind of mind created by the net. Kids who learn to read well -- by which I mean not sounding out word after painful word, but following eagerly from paragraph to paragraph, and from chapter to chapter -- pick up a number of other abilities without even realizing it. They learn that an opinion by itself will not do, but that the opinion must be defended with evidence. They learn what evidence is, and pick up some rules of logic. From fiction, they learn basic narrative structure, chronology, cause and effect.
Above all, they see how people think through problems -- what questions they ask, and what evidence they decide they need. Kids may even see people in the act of changing their minds when the evidence fails to support their initial theories, or changing their questions when they find more interesting ones along the way. They may even get to watch people in the act of falling in love with subjects and ideas.
Another thing kids learn from reading is to sit still for long stretches of time and pay attention. Since the book stays still, kids have a better chance of making sense out of the text. They can go back and reread the things they didn't understand, or the most exciting parts of the story, or passages that resonated with them. (I suspect the rash of ADHD has a lot to do with kids being raised on continuity-less TV, with its arbitrary jumps in editing and content -- how can they learn sustained focus on a subject when within minutes the show hops from crackerjacks to music video to news to cereal to Smurfs?)
The internet isn't going to help kids learn how to focus, any more than TV does, because a hyperlinked article invites people to click away before they've even finished reading it. Hyperlinks encourage the building not of argument but collages of information, built from a few pieces here, a few pieces there, glued together. This kind of thinking can be highly creative, leading to interesting and nonobvious connections between ideas. But if kids haven't learned how to reason, and haven't learned what good information looks like, what's to keep them from settling for the easiest and showiest bits they come across?
I think this might explain why librarians see so many students gathering barrages of information without any guiding thesis or question to explain what the point of the paper is, or why the student should choose THIS information rather than other information. It might also explain how students don't seem to notice when bits of information they use directly contradict each other.
Of course this leaves open the question of how teachers without the internet (though not necessarily without computers) can grab the attention and enthusiasm of kids who are already familiar with the net. I think it can be done, with a judicious combination of matching kids with books that genuinely interest them, and having kids use e-mail to improve their writing skills painlessly. But that's another column altogether.
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DISCLOSING THE INVISIBLE WEB
Know what? Everything that's available or accessible via the Web is not picked up by search engines; you could be overlooking quality content. There's a name for this material: the Invisible Web (also known as the Hidden Internet).
Well, what specifically is the Invisible Web? Simply put, it's Web content that traditional search engines can't crawl or index. Examples of Invisible Web content include the following:
- Non-HTML files (e.g., PDF files)
- Webbed databases
- Sites requiring registration or logion
- Archives (e.g., newspapers and magazines)
- Dynamically created Web pages
- Interactive tools (e.g., calculators)
Chris Sherman, About.com guide for Web Search, provides a great illustration to help conceptualize the Invisible Web: "Search engines often can't distinguish the difference between the front door of a huge data repository, and a simple Web page."
That is, the home page of a database or a searchable Web resource can be indexed, but the rich content behind its gates or walls cannot.
Sherman continues, "It's as if they [search engines] get to the front doors of major libraries and records depositories, but are barred from entering."
In light of this truth, how can Invisible Web content be accessed?
Currently several Invisible Web catalogs or directories have been created. Many of them are Yahoo!-like sites that are arranged topically and hierarchically. These are, in essence, databases of databases. A prime example is InvisibleWeb.com at http://www.invisibleweb.com/
This tool features 10,000 searchable resources. As the creators of InvisibleWeb.com note, their service "allows users to find answers from thousands of untapped sources containing targeted information. It allows access to the invisible portion of the Web, which is invisible to today's search engines."
The catalog includes both fee-based as well as free resources. Furthermore, InvisibleWeb.com adds value to the sites that it includes by providing annotations for each site and linking directly to not only the home page, but also the search form of each resource.
Sound advice suggests that searchers use guides such as InvisibleWeb.com when traditional search engines prove fruitless . . . or when seekers desire highly targeted, specific results.
For more information on the Invisible Web, please read Bonnie Snow's article, "The Internet's Hidden Content and How to Find It" (Online, May 2000).
Other Invisible Web resources include these:
- WebData http://www.webdata.com/ -- A database portal featuring 6,000 searchable sites. Offers four ways of searching and includes the World Almanac 1999.
- Adobe PDF Search http://searchpdf.adobe.com/ -- Most search engines don't index the content of Adobe PDF files since they require a special "reader". Thankfully, Adobe has provided a search tool to retrieve these documents.
- Direct Search http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/ -- As Gary Price, librarian and creator of this site, says, Direct Search, "links to the search interfaces of resources that contain data not easily or entirely searchable/accessible from general search tools like Alta Vista, Google, and Hotbot."
Web Search (courtesy of About.com) http://websearch.about.com/internet/websearch/library/ -- Internet guru Chris Sherman collects and annotates a wealth of search tools at this site. Also, he writes about the latest search engine developments and provides information-hunting tips. Be sure to click on the "Invisible Web" subject category, which features an article (among others) called "InvisibleWeb: Worth a Look".
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Since my family did not own many books, or have the money for a child to buy them, it was good to know that solely by virtue of my municipal citizenship I had access to any book I wanted from that grandly austere bulding downtown...No less satisfying was the idea of communal ownership, property held in common for the common good. Why I had to care for the books I borrowed, return the, unscarred and on time, was because they weren't mine alone, they were everybody's. That idea had as much to do with civilizing me as any I was ever to come upon in the books themselves.
Philip Roth. New York Times, 1969.
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You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.