Website Literacy (page 2)
Each Website has a unique address, called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). For example, http://www.ncss.org is the URL for the National Council for the Social Studies. Actually all Websites have a protocol, “http://,” which stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol, but it is not necessary to use the protocol. Websites listed in professional journals eliminate this uniform protocol and start the URL with “www.” The first aspect of Web literacy is the set of skills required to enter a site. Students can get into a Website in two ways:
- The URL has already been provided. Then the task for the student is relatively easy: just type the URL in the location box for the browser and press Enter. The key here is for children to understand that when it comes to entering URLs, the Internet is strict! That is, even the smallest typing error will result in frustration. This is why many teachers use the bookmark or favorites feature to store frequently used URLs. There are advantages and disadvantages to providing students with the URL for a Website. The advantage is that, assuming the site has been reviewed in advance, teachers do not have to worry that our students will find a site that is inappropriate. The disadvantage is that the students will not learn how to conduct their own Internet-based searches.
- The other way to find a relevant Website is to use a search engine. The option should be reserved for older students, and teachers should realize that it opens the door to every site currently on the Web. Popular search engines include Google, Excite, About.com, and Lycos. The student types in key words, and the engine searches the Internet for sites that have those words. Each site found and displayed is called a hit. There are a number of simple things we should teach our students about conducting this type of search (Berson et al., 2001; Grabe & Grabe, 2000):
- You will get different results, depending on the search engine you use. Each search engine has a different system for locating Websites.
- URLs can change. Unfortunately, some URLs that once had material appropriate for children have been acquired by sites that feature pornography.
- Use singular forms, not plurals (search for airplane, not airplanes).
- The use of quotation marks results in a search for the words enclosed as a phrase; otherwise, the engine looks for each word individually (type “George Washington” rather than George Washington).
- The use of operators greatly facilitates your search. Operators are words like AND, OR, and AND NOT (yes, they must be capitalized). Berson (2001) points out if you type “George Washington” into the About.com engine, you get over 500,000 hits. “George Washington” AND “Mount Vernon” narrows the search to 3,700 hits. AND results in a search for sites that have both terms together, OR results in a search for each item separately, and AND NOT excludes items from the search.
Once they are on a Website and are reading the site’s home page, students should be able to take advantage of both internal links and external links. One feature that Websites have that greatly facilitates information gathering is hyperlinks. Most Websites use hypertext to create references, or links, to other locations. The links are highlighted and underlined, and through the mere click of the mouse, the reader is transported to the new site. Internal links connect the reader to other locations (or “pages”) within the Website. External links connect you with a different Website.
In addition to concerns about child safety and the accuracy of information, elementary teachers confront a third issue when their students use the Web. Much of the information on the Web is too difficult for our students to read. It can be quite frustrating for a student to successfully call up a Website only to find that the text is written for adults. Teachers can do a number of things to alleviate this problem. First, this readability issue is yet another reason why it is important for teachers to review as many Websites as possible before students enter them. Second, teachers should use sites that are written for children. Third, even those Websites that are too difficult for elementary school students to read can still be used for their visual images, especially photographs. Finally, the teaching suggestions in Chapter 9 on content-area reading can be applied to Websites. For example, teachers could use the text structure of a Web page to create a graphic organizer and a study guide to help students find the significant information on the page.
One more important point about gathering data from computer-based resources like the Web and CD-ROMs. When compared to hard-copy resources, it is much easier to copy text and images. Teachers must be sure that our students do not view computer-based data gathering as a process of electronic plagiarism. Sometimes, cutting and pasting is perfectly appropriate, especially for visual images but also to allow the student to read text away from a computer station. Students should be taught, however, that when they use unedited text or images in their own work, they must provide a reference.
Many teachers are connecting children with resources on the Internet by using two instructional formats developed at San Diego State University, WebQuest and Web Inquiry Project (Molebash, 2004; Molebash & Dodge, 2003; VanFossen, 2004b).
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