Monday, October 13, 2014

A new kind of literacy.

Everybody has a second job, right?  In education, it's most likely true.  Many teachers are also coaches or advisers to various clubs or sports.  Still others are teaching a class that wasn't in their original job description, or used as a supervisor for a remediation clinic.  In my case, it's a required English course at the high school called Information Literacy.  The basis of the class is career research, embedded in a "learn to be safe on the internet, and oh, by the way, don't be an idiot there, and don't believe that an octopus lives in a tree."  

Media Literacy - a new kind of literacy...

It's a tough thing teaching Information Literacy -- partially because of the huge shift in technology, and the constant changes to the availability at the APP store on the phones and tablets of your young (and not so young) people.  The technology is changing so quickly, and the cost to develop apps is relatively inexpensive, that many young entrepreneurs see app development as the new get-rich-quick opportunity.  Free apps, and low cost apps offer convenience, or directions, or entertainment, at the stroke of a fingertip.

As an educator, it's really tough to get kids to consider the comprehensive benefits and dangers that lie within those strokes.  When I was a kid, it was the guy with the lost puppy in a Buick trolling the streets that was the danger.  (Or maybe the white unmarked van...?)  It's so much more difficult to teach "stranger danger" to kids -- and adults -- when the stranger has no face. 

Last week, during a discussion on cyberbullying, a student shyly informed the class that she had deleted an app called ASK FM.  I'd never heard of it, yet most of the class nodded in agreement that ASK FM was nothing to mess with.  Kids using ASK FM receive messages from unknown individuals, often asking for personal information.  Oh, and they have NO IDEA who is asking the question, which leads to cyberbullying.

I never thought I'd say "I HOPE you only get cyberbullied", yet given the multitude of bad scenario endings possible, the cyberbullying result appears to be the thing to hope for in the case of this app.

My point is, there is no way that society should expect schools and teachers to be able to educate every student on every potential online scenario.  Our kids need to learn to look out for much more than windowless white vans or Buicks driven by puppyless people.  The danger is real.  The danger is out there, and the danger is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU as you read this post.   (There's an excellent, and short, TED Talk on this topic, which also discusses the hidden messages and meanings and the discussions that can take place if we take the time to do so.)

The kids at my school, and many of the teachers, consider Information Literacy to be a perfunctory responsibility.    The real responsibility lies in all of us, collectively, to do the right thing, stop the insanity, and protect our young people (as well as our uneducated senior citizens) about the reality of the neighborhood known as ONLINE.

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