George Nikitin/AP
Palo Alto High School journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki helps student Allison Wyndham at a computer during journalism class, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, in Palo Alto, Calif.

This School Year, Make Teaching Students Better Internet Skills a Priority

September 24, 2009 07:00 AM
by Colleen Brondou
Kids may be more Internet savvy than ever before, but their ability to perform online research and evaluate Web sites remains weak. How can parents and teachers help?

How to Transform Internet Savvy Into Internet Smart?

When Symantec Corp. released a study on children’s and teenager’s Internet use in August, parents may have been alarmed to read the results: YouTube was the most popular search term, and the terms “sex” and “porn” were among the top 10 searches.

Left to their own devices, kids are apt to simply surf the Web, bouncing from one site to another, based on their own curiosity or recommendations from peers. Even when asked to perform Internet searches in a classroom setting, most students use the same unguided approach, with poor results. In August 2008, Mary E. Shacklett asked the question, “Do Kids Have the Right Internet Skills?” for the Web site Internet Evolution. She spoke with Susan Brooks, cofounder of Internet4classrooms, to find an answer.

“Internet skills are like any concept which necessitates student instruction,” Brooks said. “Since these skills are not tested by many states, other areas of instruction that are tested get class-time priority. Because of this issue, many students may not have had direct instruction on how to perform research, and their skills reflect this.”

Teaching Internet Skills in the 21st Century

Thanks to Stephanie Rosalia, the school librarian at Brooklyn’s Public School 225, some students are getting direct instruction in how to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of information on the Internet.

According to Motoko Rich in a February article for The New York Times, Rosalia “is part of a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis.” Rosalia starts by teaching students how to distinguish Web URLs and how to evaluate the authors of a Web site’s content. She then guides students in asking smart questions when performing research.

How can parents and teachers help students navigate through the millions of Web pages available on the Internet, filled with good and bad information, and teach them how to make informed decisions? Start right at the beginning with better Internet searches: Use the right search engine for the job and choose your search terms wisely.

According to Shacklett, Brooks believes that helping students evaluate Web sites and determine whether information is accurate and authentic is also key. “By giving examples of acceptable and unacceptable standards that students need to look for in Websites, students learn to quickly assess sites for validity,” Brooks says.

Critical Thinking Is Key for Internet Searches

But even if students have learned how to gather information from reliable Web sites, Jim Teicher, CEO of Cybermart! Education, tells Schacklett that it’s about more “than simple retrieval skills.” He stresses the importance of critical thinking. “The kids have the Internet to retrieve facts. Tests that ask our kids to use the facts to present an argument or develop a position—this is critical thinking. These are the skills our kids need to achieve in the twenty-first-century environment.”

The On This Day Challenge

Get kids to start developing their critical thinking skills with the On This Day Challenge. The Challenge invites students to take their Web research and critical thinking skills to the next level while writing about important events in history. A student chooses a significant event from history and uses the Web to research and gather information on the chosen event. Using critical thinking and analysis skills, the student then writes an article on the event, citing their Web sources. A broad range of articles will be featured on, and active participants will be entered into monthly drawings for prizes.

Reference: Students’ Guide to Web Search

With the Students’ Guide to Web Search, students will learn how search engines work, how to get better search results, how to critically evaluate Web sites and how to perform an online research project.

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