Yes, the internet can feel like the wild west, from which both parents and educators may be tempted to shelter their children and students. However, just as old-school book banning and burning didn’t work, all out censorship or hyper-restrictive access is not the answer to challenges presented by new media access.
The sea of inappropriate content – either by age group or societal values – is typically the first bug-a-boo to rear its head when “children” and “internet” are used in the same sentence. That’s a relatively easy issue to deal with, however. As children, we were all taught to avoid high-crime neighborhoods or how to traverse them safely, not to read books or magazines or see movies with content ill suited for children, and even to walk away from friendships with kids who make bad choices.
Those same skills and values come into play when teaching children how to navigate today’s electronic community. Educators and parents alike can achieve this by not creating oh-so-delicious “forbidden fruit” with censorship and instead guiding students to engaging, informative and age-appropriate content and tools that they find simply irresistible.
For example, tried-and-true content providers like National Geographic and PBS have wonderful kid-friendly content and games. Aggregators like Kidsites.org and 100topkid.com make tracking down kid-friendly sites a no-brainer. Kids can also have fun making their own content with click-of-a-button web tools like ScreenCastle, or more advanced tools like MeeMov, Masher and Stupeflix.
Of greater concern is an increased need to teach our children intellectual discernment when it comes to retrieving and absorbing content from the web. Parents and educators alike need to provide guidelines that limit a garbage-in-garbage-out experience and enhance critical thinking skills because the old adage, “Just because it’s in print doesn’t make it true,” applies now more than ever. Gone are filters such as the tincture of time and peer-review on the front end and the practical constraints of time and place when retrieving information on the back end.
On the upside, the fast-paced, “wiki” nature of the web means that just as quickly as inaccurate information is posted, corrections, rebuttals and reviews appear to balance the conversation. Our role, then, is to provide the children in our lives with the core skills needed to effectively navigate and process the infinite sources of information on the web.
Specifically, we need to teach our children: 1) Critical thinking skills, so they don’t believe everything they see or read – either on the internet or in the physical world, 2) Where and how to find trusted sources of reliable information, so they can fact check on their own and develop a substantive knowledge base and personal opinions, 3) Develop flexible thinking, so they can accept new, credible information that may refute their current thinking, whether it be regarding an urban legend or a scientific advance.
You’ll notice that none of these skills are really very new. Each and every one of them is a vital component in a high quality education. We know that with them all children advance from rote memorization of facts to the intellectual fluency that is the foundation of lifelong learning.
Without a doubt, Web 2.0 is here to stay. Our job, then, is to transfer these invaluable skills from traditional learning environments to the seemingly limitless classroom and community found on the internet.