Xose Antonio Neira Cruz

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room III

Speaker: Xosé Antonio Neira Cruz(Spain)


Internet resources for children

Dr. Xosé Antonio Neira Cruz

University of Santiago de Compostela



The nature of literacy and learning is rapidly changing as new technologies for information and communication such as the Internet appear, providing us with new challenges and new opportunities as we consider how best to prepare children for their futures. In fact, if there is one thing that is certain in these uncertain times, it is that the technologies of information and communication will regularly and repeatedly change, regularly redefining what it means to be literate. As Donald J. Leu says this presents particular problems to those of us charged with preparing children for their future. How can we best prepare children for the new literacies that will be needed for the new technologies of information and communication that appear?

Some argue that the new technologies for information and communication are either harmful, too expensive, or lead to surface level, not deeper and more complex, thinking (Birkerts, 1994; Oppenheimer, 1997; Rochlin, 1997; Roszak, 1994; Stoll, 1995). Nevertheless, a growing body of work suggests that one's ability to effectively use these new technologies will be central to the workplace demands in an information economy (Bruce, 1997; Harrison & Stephen, 1996; Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998; Negroponte, 1995). Preparing children for their futures in an information age will profoundly change content area instruction for it will require that we integrate the new technologies of information and communication into our instructional programs.

In this contribution we will begin by describing the changes taking place in content area reading instruction and explain why these changes are taking place. It will then explore answers to a series of instructional questions teachers often ask as they consider their new roles within the new literacies required by the Internet:

o How can I use the Internet to quickly find useful information for my class?

o How can I integrate the Internet into classroom teaching?

o How can I protect children as they begin to explore the wider world of the Internet?

o How can I keep up with the many changes taking place on the Internet?

The changes to content area instruction resulting from the integration of Internet technologies into classroom instruction are nothing short of revolutionary. They change the information resources available to our students, of course. The Internet opens a wonderful window on the world to new information resources, new people, and new perspectives about content area information.

In addition, however, they also reshape traditional relationships between teachers and students. Because the technologies for information and communication are increasingly powerful, complex, and continually changing, our students quickly become more knowledgeable than us in many aspects of information technologies. As a result, our role as teacher is changing from being the central source of information in the classroom to becoming a facilitator and guide, putting children together with other children who possess various types of expertise in order to exchange information and solve common problems.

Internet technologies also raise new issues about our relationship to content area information. In a world where anyone may publish anything, how does one evaluate the accuracy of information one finds? In a world where there is too much information, not too little, how do we prepare children to quickly locate the most useful information resources? In a world where new juxtapositions of multiple media forms may be created, how do we help children critically evaluate the variety of meanings inherent in the multiple media forms in which messages appear (Flood & Lapp, 1995). Clearly, what has traditionally been referred to as critical reading or critical thinking assumes greater importance and new meaning with the introduction of Internet technologies into the content area classroom.

All of these changes require us to consider how best to prepare children for the new literacies necessary for success in the complex world they will enter as working adults. As teachers, we need to help children develop the new composing, comprehension, and response abilities the Internet demands for its effective use.

Why are these changes happening? Reich (1992), Rifkin (1995), and many others argue that we have entered an information age where success is often defined by one's ability to use information for solving important problems. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that networked, digital technologies provide rapid access to vast amounts of information, increasing the importance of effective information use (Harrison & Stephen, 1996). As individuals or organizations identify problems, gather information, and seek solutions, digital bits become faster and cheaper than atoms (Negroponte, 1995) and in a highly competitive context speed, information, and cost become paramount. The changing definitions of information, literacy, and content area reading instruction are largely driven by these global forces in the nature of work. Moreover, the globally competitive context in which we find ourselves ensures that new technologies for information and communication will continually be developed, resulting in continuously changing literacies. As a result, content area literacy instruction becomes even more important to our children than in the past. In an information age, success will be determined largely by our students ability to use information and information technologies in effective ways.

A common challenge for busy teachers is to quickly locate useful information resources on the Internet. No one has large amounts of time to spend finding classroom resources. Yet, search engines often turn up hundreds of thousands of locations when one uses a keyword such as "Colombus", "Spanish", "geometry", "physics" or "Cervantes". Moreover, many of these sites are not developed with the needs of children and classrooms in mind. As a result, we have to search through hundreds of sites in order to find one those useful for classroom instruction.

Instead of using a search engine, teachers often rely on central sites for content areas. Central sites contain extensive and well organized links to resources designed for use in content area classrooms. Visiting a central site will quickly provide you with many resources for your instructional units and save you valuable time.

Part of the new literacies demanded by the Internet include the literacies of responsibility. As teachers, we need to assume new responsibilities for our students' safety. In addition, our students need to assume new responsibilities for the appropriate use of these powerful technologies. Students may travel to sites that are inappropriate for them to view, they may send out or receive an offensive e-mail message, they may be contacted by strangers, or they may interfere with the running of a computer system.

To prevent the viewing of inappropriate sites, some schools use software filters. Software filters deny students access to certain Internet sites. These filters deny access to locations where certain words appear. Teachers and parents may edit the list of words used in the blocking software

Software filters, however, are not a perfect solution. They tend to block access to sites you may wish you children to have access to (e.g., Middlesex School District) and they tend to allow access to sites you may wish restricted.

Whether your district uses a software filter or not, every school and district should develop an acceptable use policy as part of a comprehensive program of Internet literacy. An acceptable use policy is a written agreement signed by parents/guardians, students, and teachers defining procedures to be followed while using the Internet at school. It specifies the conditions under which students may use the Internet, defines appropriate and unacceptable use, and defines penalties for violating items in the policy. All parties involved in the education of each child need to be aware of the consequences for misusing the privilege of Internet access. Developing an acceptable use policy and then asking everyone to sign it helps to ensure that all parties understand these important issues.

What does an acceptable use policy look like? Acceptable use policies usually contain the following elements:

o A description of the Internet and an explanation about how its appropriate use is important to the education of children. Acceptable use policies explain to parents/guardians and students what the Internet is and why it is important. They also explain that students will be taught proper use of the Internet at school.

o A definition of acceptable and unacceptable behavior which emphasizes student responsibility when using the Internet. Acceptable use policies explain why it is important to supervise student use of the Internet. They also explain that each student must take responsibility for his or her own actions. This section defines what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

o A list of penalties for each violation of the policy. Acceptable use policies define sanctions for inappropriate behavior with Internet resources. Often they include increasing levels of penalties: a warning letter to parents/guardians for a first violation and a suspension of privileges for a repeated violation. Schools often establish a panel to review cases.

o Space for the student, teacher, and parent/guardian to sign the agreement. Acceptable use policies are signed by all participants. After discussing each element carefully with students, the form is usually sent home for parents and students to sign. Teachers will also sign this form before it is carefully filed in an appropriate location.

The Internet and other networked technologies are continuously changing, regularly redefining what it means to become literate. As a result, they require each of us to continuously develop new literacies and new instructional strategies to support our students. While networked technologies are responsible for these changing definitions of literacy, they also provide us with the means to keep up with the change that will be a part of all our lives.

Many teachers find the use of mailing lists or listservs essential for professional development. A mailing list, or listserv, is a discussion group run via e-mail. A message sent to the posting address of a mailing list is distributed to everyone who has subscribed to that list. This enables you to engage in conversations with colleagues around the world who share common interests. As you listen to conversations among colleagues, you will regularly discover new ideas for instruction that can be immediately used in your classroom. Joining the right mailing list(s) will provide you with many new instructional ideas as you discover how other teachers respond to common challenges.

As we begin to bring the new literacies to our students possible with Internet technologies, it is possible that teachers who have forged ahead and created wonderful curricular outposts will guide our way. In a world of rapidly changing technologies for teaching and learning it is likely that the most useful source of information about effective instructional practice with these technologies will shift from university researchers to classroom teachers. Teachers who lead the way will provide all of us with new windows to the world of our futures.

Traditionally, university research has served to evaluate the efficacy of different instructional practices. However, since it often takes as long as 4-5 years between the design of a study and the publication of results, this source of information will not be able to keep up with rapidly changing nature of Internet technologies, instructional resources, and ideas about effective practice. Teachers are able to generate powerful insights and share these insights with others far faster than traditional epistemological approaches. It is likely that teachers who create new ways of using new technologies and evaluate their efficacy in the classroom every day will become an increasingly important source of information about how best to prepare our students in content areas.



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