It is evident as we look around our classrooms, converse with others, watch TV, or listen to the radio, that the Internet is the tool of choice when searching for information. More and more, our students make use of the internet in order to complete research or connect with others in the world. “The union of reading and technology on the Internet is causing educators to take a new look at what it means to be literate in today’s society. New forms of literacy call upon students to know how to access, evaluate, and apply information…This is necessary for success in the workplace and at school…much Internet content has blinking graphics, vivid color, and lots of eye-catching phrases that can guide or distract from the reading.A reader must be able to evaluate all the features of a webpage and quickly decide which one will likely be the most helpful in accessing information (Schmar-Dobler, E, p.p. 1-3).” Navigating the Internet requires reading strategies that are similar to those of reading print, but one must be more critical in order to maneuver through the layers of on-line information without verging completely off topic. We need to be very intentional as we instruct our students on the appropriate and critical use of tools and information on the internet.
A Shift in Education
In my Special Education classroom, there are approximately 14 students. The benefits of assistive technology for Special education students are well documented. However, we have moved well beyond the use of assistive technology, and entered a new era of Web 2.0 web-based applications. The term Web 2.0 has been adopted and used by educators in reference to web-based applications which allow their students to learn using interactive tools. With the advent of such tools, comes the need for a shift in the ways we educate. Not only do we need to support our students as they learn to use the digital tools available, we must also ensure they become responsible digital citizens. As in all types of citizenship, with privileges and rights also come responsibilities. Childnet International has a PDF download available that outlines the responsibilities attached to the benefits of internet use, and can be used in the classroom to begin a conversation about digital citizenship.
Supporting this Generation of Digital Citizens
As educators, we must support students as they learn about their digital footprint, online reputation, intellectual property rights, and creative content. We must encourage students to form opinions about information and videos they view, and what it means to be a good digital citizen. Students naturally look for information by conducting web searches, and we can support this practice by teaching them how to research effectively. Teachers can act as models of effective searches and teach students how to be specific and succinct in their word selection. A great YouTube video entitled Web Search Strategies in Plain English helps viewers understand the way a web search works.
Digital technology has played an important role in my special education classroom for a number of years, but the way it is used has changed significantly. My students have moved from using Microsoft Office and speech to text/text to speech software, to using Web 2.o tools and on-line learning platforms such as Edmodo. Those changes bring significant challenges, including:students’ lack of experience; passwords are created and forgotten; students save files randomly; and, students are overwhelmed by the amount of information available. Furthermore, some of my students struggle to manipulate information once it is moved out of isolation.What that means is that some of my students need intense support to complete tasks where three or more steps are required. That becomes problematic, as the digital technology and Web 2.0 tools are used interactively, not in isolation. This makes the teacher’s role even more significant. Moving forward, almost all aspects of our lives will be touched by the internet, making it essential for our needy students to be able to access digital tools and social media in effective and responsible ways.
Addressing Students’ Needs
I have begun to address the challenges the same way I address other learning challenges which occur in my classroom. I differentiate my instruction, providing peer or teacher support for students who struggle. Something beautiful I have discovered is that some of my students are quite savvy in their use of technology, which gives me the opportunity to celebrate their strengths. Those students have become classroom experts, and are able to help others when problems occur. I have also introduced anchor charts and posters with step by step instructions. The anchor charts help struggling students immensely, and slowly, simple errors occur less frequently.
Despite the challenges, there are great rewards. Some of the benefits of increasing the use of Web 2.0 tools include:immediate access to visual and auditory experiences which support various learning styles and build schema; immediate access to information and people anywhere around the world; access to learning or reading material leveled appropriately for struggling readers; the ability to create presentations or videos using different types of media; and most importantly, an increase in STUDENT ENGAGEMENT.
Students can retrieve information and demonstrate learning in ways like never before!
Schmar-Dobler, E. “Reading on the Internet:The link between literacy and technology.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy Vol. 47 No.1 September 2003
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