Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Don't Trust Me

So here's the mundane question of the week: "Is the Internet making kids dumb?" Seems a marginally scientific study found that seventh graders, after being asked to research the 'tree octopus' and being directed to the Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site, believed that the tree octopus was real.

Then this group of students (25 of them to be exact) were told that the story of the endangered cephalopods was actually a decade's old hoax. Har har. What a way to kid a kid. However, even after being let in on the joke, about half the students continued to believe the species was real.

The researcher, Dr. Donald Leu, concluded that "anyone can publish anything on the Internet and today's students are not prepared to critically evaluate the information they find there." I must agree.

In fact, his statement reminds me of an incident a few months ago with a friend and her nine-year-old niece. The niece said that her teacher told her to never trust Wikipedia because anybody can edit it. Well, I think my response was something like "you should be skeptical of everything on the Internet."

But a better answer would have been more like "the world is a stream of unfiltered data, and you need to be skeptical of everything, even your teachers and your schoolbooks. But at least on Wikipedia you can click the 'discussion' tab and find out the who, what, and why behind edits. Also, every article has a thorough reference section that lists sources independent of Wikipedia. I'm shocked your teacher would blacklist such a useful resource."

Ironically, if any of the kids in the aforementioned study had looked up Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus on Wikipedia, they would have learned it was a hoax.

Wikipedia is one awesome and important piece of the Internet, and kids shouldn't be scared away from it. The trick we need to teach kids is to not passively read it, but to purposefully edit it. By taking part in a project that is both cooperative and complex, I think kids will become better thinkers.

And I believe this was actually the point of Dr. Leu's research: A new type of literacy is required for this generation of students. This isn't about the Internet making them dumb. It's about the presumption that kids are innate Internet experts when in reality they must be taught a whole new set of comprehension skills.

Don't trust my conclusion though. Check out Dr. Leu's PowerPoint presentation yourself.

1 comment:

fabutastic said...

Back in my day, newspapers used to vector urban legends and you'd have to argue with people who really believed that a doberman choked on a burglar's fingers and this girl had a nest of spiders in her hair and two ladies were in an elevator when Eddie Murphy walked in with a (different?) doberman and said "sit!" and both the ladies immediately sat down and then they laughed and Eddie Murphy totally paid their hotel bills.

It's always been necessary to be skeptical about things you hear. The internet makes it easier than ever to check those things.