[Do you understand the significance of a ~ in a URI? If not you need to read this article]
In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student used the personal website of a professor at Northwestern University, Arthur Butz, as justification for writing a history paper called “The Historic Myth of Concentration Camps.”
That student, who we will call Zack, had been encouraged to use the internet for research, but he had not been taught to decode the meaning of the characters in a web address. When he read the web address, http://pubweb.northwestern.edu/~abutz/di/intro.html, he assumed that the domain name “northwestern.edu” automatically meant it was a credible source. He did not understand that the “~” character, inserted after the domain name, should be read as a personal web page and not an official document of the university. As with any media, punctuation counts.
Without web literacy, Zack believed Butz’s explanation. Zack read about how the Nazis were fighting typhus, a disease carried by head lice. He went on to read that the pesticide Zyklon was used to kill the head lice—not the prisoners in the gas chambers. Without basic knowledge of web punctuation or the skills necessary to validate internet content, Zack was at a disadvantage to think critically about what he was reading. He had been taught to read paper, but he had not been taught to read the web. Zack was illiterate in what undoubtedly has become the dominant media of our society. At the time, Zack’s teachers also were illiterate about the web.
It turns out that validating content is not rocket science. Even a first-grade student can begin to understand the organization of information on the web. It seemed obvious at the time that understanding the grammar, punctuation, and syntax of the internet was so basic to being literate in our web-based society that schools immediately would begin to teach all children web literacy. Yet, that hasn’t been the case in most schools.
[How are you teaching web literacy to your students?]