Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Digital Native" vs. "Digitally Literate"

I absolutely loved Danah Boyd's writing: It's Complicated; The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

First and foremost, I teach Academic English to college students at JWU and one of the most important lessons I spend about two days on (should be more!!) is about being critical of the information found on the web. This is a huge news-break to my students who are international and trust everything they read on the web.

Prior to reading this article, I thought two things about my international students: 
1. I thought my students were the exception and not the rule (meaning, I thought all other college students and "natives" already knew how to think critically about internet information and my students were the only ones who didn't.)

2. I thought my students believed everything because they are learning in a foreign country and reading in a second language, so their "police skills" were lowered. With these two factors in mind, they have many challenges to know if internet information is credible or not.

But I learned two things from reading this article: My students are the rule, not the exception. Also, not many people know if internet information is credible or not - including myself.

This is very exciting!!

First, I am glad to know that my teaching about AAOCC (my "internet literacy" checklist that I teach students to think critically about the information they find on the web) is an extremely valuable lesson. Second, I've been doing it all wrong. haha

I've been doing it all wrong. Yes, I am exactly the teacher that the students describe in the article and that Boyd gently criticizes for prohibiting Wikipedia. However, I am exactly the product of what Boyd describes: I was never taught how to think critically about information on the internet. I am exactly like the "natives" she describes - assumed to have digital literacy, but in reality: lacking this hugely important skill. I guess I feel proud of myself for having taken the time to learn exactly "how" to critique information on the internet (ie:AAOCC). But as Boyd and others said in the article - it's so hard, messy & confusing! Even I sometimes throw my hands up.

Teaching about internet literacy, AAOCC and how to critique information found on the web is always a cool lesson - well, it's a love/hate relationship. I love it because I think it is so valuable for my students to be "policemen" (as I describe it in class) of the information they use for research. However, I hate it because, as I mentioned earlier, it is so messy. This reminds me of Alfie Kohn's article, "Challenging Students... And How to Have More of Them" (thank you Dr. August.) In Kohn's article he talks about a type of teaching called "backstage teaching" meaning that teachers show students all the errors and frustrations that happen backstage during a true learning moment. Kohn says that the fact of showing  that learning and life is messy and full of errors is important to help students understand their own trials and errors when working through a math problem, science problem, writing assignment, etc. When it comes to "internet literacy" - showing students the unscripted, complex mess at hand is extremely frustrating, ahem... valuable. I can see why people want to avoid it and just "trust in Google."

Finally, I am SO curious about Boyd's description of Wikipedia. I have always been adamant with my students - NEVER USE WIKIPEDIA!!! However, Boyd tells me otherwise, so I am curious to find out exactly what she speaks of. She talks about finding an article and looking at the history of edits and people's explanations of the changes they made. She says that she learned more from reading those "Edit Discussions" than she did in a semester. I am so curious to see this... so let's do it together.

Boyd's Example: "The American Revolutionary War" on Wikipedia
The main page Here, I am able to read the content that has been posted and edited by the public. **I am skeptical.** In the top right corner you can indeed see the options: "Read," "View Source," View History." Right now I am in the "Read" section of the entry.

"View Source" I am not a registered user (because up until today I prohibited most Wikipedia use :) so there is not much I can see here. But I believe this type of information input/formatting was discussed in Wesch's video "The Machine is Us/ing Us."

"View History" This is a HUGE list of Revision History (it goes back to October 2001... wasn't that the invention of the internet??!?!) made by users. I need to polk around a bit to get a better handle on this list & explanations of revisions... but I am prepared to put my tail between my legs and apologize for my words if Wikipedia is actually more credible than I thought.

But before I make such a mighty announcement... I need some time to get more "literate" about the web (more specifically, Wikipedia) and rethink my "internet literacy" lesson for my students.  Apparently, I have joined the flocks and am more illiterate than I thought.

This sounds like an exciting challenge! I'm ready to go...


  1. I LOVE your WIkipedia adventure -- I think you should do this withyour students in your information literacy section!! Let everyone sign up to be registered user and see where they can view and then WRITE on the wikipedia entries. Rumor has it that errors on wikipedia are corrected in less that a minute on common topics (9 minutes for less common topics!)

  2. I cannot WAIT to try this out :) Thanks for the tip.