Saturday, 6 September 2014

Reading online

image credits: Royalty Free Stock Images
Research suggests that online reading requires a different set of skills and strategies than offline reading.  These different skills and strategies are required because online reading is frequently information seeking, guided by the reader (rather than the teacher) and non-linear (readers follow a series of hyperlinks and navigate through multiple windows rather than reading something from beginning to end).  The skills required for successful online reading are: the ability to formulate appropriate questions, locate reliable information, and evaluate, synthesize and communicate that information.
Additionally, because online reading occurs within rapidly changing technology that may or may not be familiar to teachers, and students are frequently engaged with outside of school, lessons that build on students’ prior knowledge of these technologies can and should be employed.
Finally, research tells us that proficient offline readers are not always proficient online readers and vice versa.


There are a number of ways that you can help students formulate good questions:

- For younger students, teach them to use appropriate search terms and quotations marks rather than full questions when using a search engine.

- For older students, teach them Boolean Operators (and, or, not, near, ( ), *) to better refine their searches.  Ask students to perform a search before introducing Boolean Operators and then to perform the same search after. Ask them to reflect on the different types of information these searches find.

By asking students to reflect on their already established online behavior, you can engage in metacognitive reflection about their information seeking behavior and what skills they need to develop:

- Have students draw a map of their online reading behavior.  Start with a general research question and have them draw or take screen shots of the various steps and detours they take to find the answer. Students can share their maps or screen shots in class and reflect on the decisions they made at each point in their reading.

- As a class you can use this as an opportunity to discuss how students assess the reliability of websites, interact with their peers for advice during online reading, and what problems they encountered and how they solved those problems.

In order to help students learn to analyze and evaluate the information they encounter online you can:

- Teach a mini-lessons on the differences between .com, .gov, .org, and .edu domains.

- Design a lesson that asks students to examine websites you select (be sure to provide both reliable and unreliable sources). Elements for students to check for: can the information presented be corroborated elsewhere? Is the writer of the information reliable? Is the information current? Is the information documented? Is the website advocating for something and therefore potentially challenged as a neutral source? Is there a conflict of interest present?

- Have students examine a famous website hoax (like the Yes Men spoof of a Dow Chemical site that landed them interviews with the BBC and search for clues that suggest it is a hoax.

- Teach a mini-lesson on propaganda techniques and have students identify the use of the same techniques in online advertising.  Reflect with students on how the interactive medium of online reading can increase or decrease the power of a particular propaganda technique.

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