Internet Literacy

The Guardian posted this article yesterday dealing with the need for internet literacy skills at a younger and younger age.  In this case, the suggest was that children as young as five should be educated about how advertising is presented on the internet.  The article serves to remind us that the internet is a media like no other.

With television, shows that are targeted for a younger audience had rules about the content of the show and of the type of advertising tha is allowed to air during the show.  Older shows actually have a disclaimer message indicating that the content is not appropriate for younger audiences.

Similarly, magazines and books for children have specific rules for what sort of advertising that’s available and appropriate for their audience.

The wide open internet is different though.  There’s typically no control over who goes where and who does what.  You can find the darnedest things if you look hard enough or some things just by an inadvertant click.  It’s not just young children that can be duped either. Within the past month, I had a panic call from someone who got a message that their computer was infected with a virus and that a credit card was required to buy an anti-virus to remove it.  This was a very concerned individual who wasn’t at the top of the technologically savvy continuum but just used the computer to get the job done.  In this case, it was easy for me to dismiss since the computer being used was a Macintosh and the on-screen illustration was obviously files and folders from a Windows environment.  In this case, the advertising almost worked.

It goes to illustrate how good advertisers are at catching your eye.  Advertising isn’t bad.  The bills have to be paid somehow.  Major companies make a great deal of money through advertising.  Vendors sell a lot of products because of effective advertising campaigns.  You can’t really blame a child who tries to click on the bouncing ball or whatever in an advertisement.  Well crafted advertising will seemlessly enter the flow of a webpage and may not even be seen as being somehow different from the regular content of the page.

The article from the Guardian, on the surface, may appear to be overkill but how safe is safe?  Store your credit card information on your computer and an accidental click could end up with some unwanted purchases.  The bottom line here is that internet literacy is a skill that everyone needs.  The Ministry of Education in Ontario has recently licensed “Passport to the Internet” to provide another resource to go along with “Reality Check”.  In addition, on the internet, here are a lot of good people doing good things in this area.  I’ve tagged a bunch that I’ve found with the tag “safety” in my delicious account.

Of course, nothing is better than appropriate supervision and talking about what you see on the screen.  In the classroom, it’s always a good idea to have a portal to your content on your classroom wiki so that a student can click and get to the desired resources.  At our last computer contact meeting, we talked about the difference between “funbrain” and “funbrian” and how a simple slip of the finger can make such a difference.  In a live presentation, I broke the “click on a link and don’t keyboard it yourself” rule and made an embarrassing typo going for instead of  Gulp.  It’s so easy to do.

There is a great deal of value for people getting online.  We need to muster all of our skills to make sure that we do it intelligently and safely.

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