How to use the internet wisely for study

  • Awareness
  • 21/06/2016
  • Latvian Safer Internet Centre

A fascination with the media is very typical for modern children – the computer is a friend, it attracts and captivates; everything that happens on the computer seems interesting and creates a willingness to work on it.

This fascination must be used for pedagogical purposes rather than being strictly limited: a computer is designed for entertainment, while school and tested channels of knowledge are for learning. To use the fascination for the media wisely, parents and teachers have to act elaborately, teaching children to assess, analyse and collate messages found in the media – in other words, to think critically.
A computer for children is not a technical device but a friend who calms and with whom they can have fun – it has become someone who can be confided in. Kids perceive a computer emotionally; it has become a companion. The young generation spend a lot of time in front of the computer it's true, but the important thing is what the child is doing and what he or she obtains from these activities.
Studies of the statistical data have shown that ever-younger children, and now even infants, become regular users of the internet: the internet is used on a regular basis by 70 per cent of children aged 3-4 years in Sweden, 58 per cent of children aged 0-6 years in Norway, and almost half of children aged 3-6 years in Austria. The number of applications produced for preschool children is increasing, and children eagerly grasp this technical miracle. These applications do not require well-developed finger muscles or reading skills – developers of the applications have made them as easy-to-use as possible, especially for infants. So, how do you teach an infant to use the internet safely and wisely, and is it even possible? What is the responsibility of parents and teachers? Is just keeping the child away from the internet a good solution? There are a myriad of different answers to these questions which are based on practical observations, studies and scientific opinions, but all of them have a unified focus – in order to enable children to survive in the media environment safely, they must be taught to think critically by means of developing their ability to use the media intelligently. This is expressed in the ability to analyse, assess and collate media messages, as well as to create their own texts. Today's kids are digital citizens who perceive information and communication technologies as an integral part of human existence, and they use - and will use - those technologies to improve their abilities. The task of parents and teachers now is to develop media literacy in children, which today is as important as the ability to read and write.
Computer Science or Media Literacy
A generation of teachers who were trained for their profession in the Soviet and post-Soviet era did not experience technical use of the media and media literacy methodology during their studies so, as ascertained in the research, they often fear and avoid application of the media in the teaching process. The newer generation of teachers who willingly use computers for personal and administrative purposes are not fully backed by methodological courses which could provide an insight into how to teach students to search for information, what information is reliable, what types of information can be found in the media, how different types of the media should be used to achieve objectives, what are the possible risks, as well as what tasks are more efficient in implementation of learning objectives. This knowledge is necessary for a teacher of any subject, since working with information underlies all school subjects.
Nowadays, teachers often say: "Yes, a student must be able to work with information, but my subject does not imply any time for teaching how to do it". Even the programme of the innovative subject called Computer Science, which is currently taught in 157 schools in Latvia, is more focused on development of the ability to use a computer and software correctly rather than on the ability to critically assess the information available on the internet or, in other words, media literacy. In has been concluded that Latvia's education policy centres on the technical ability to use the media and to programme. What is learned during Computer Science? Fundamentals of computing and software-defined devices, user programmes, algorithms and programming, technical, and ethical and legal aspects of computing oriented to ensure safety of the users and other people. However, it is not enough to work with media messages purposefully and use the received information wisely. There is nothing to do with assessment and collation of information, selection of secure information resources, and so on. It would not be worth the bother unless studies indicated that 70 per cent of students do not pay attention to authors of texts placed on the internet. Unfortunately, this often has negative consequences: possible manipulations, fraud, spread of corrupted information, and so on.
Modern man is a man capable of using the media rationally
The objective of modern education is a good, world-changing person who is able to do, not just to learn. Learning is not an objective of education – it is, on the contrary, the way to become better and more capable. Capability is one of the most important indicators of living standards in the 21st century. Therefore, the objective is a person who is able to set goals, make choices and carry out practical measures necessary to implement the goals by taking the initiative, risks, adapting, creating something new, and managing his or her activities on the way towards the goal independently. Media literacy is the cornerstone of capability of the modern society.
How to use the media in the learning process
Use of technologies should be subordinated to learning objectives, and students should be clearly aware of the benefits of information available on the internet. The media fascinates students and, therefore, students are easier to engage in learning activities.
The following things must be evaluated:
  • whether technologies help to engage students in the learning content;
  • whether technologies help to focus students' attention to the learning content;
  • whether technologies help students to change from passive knowledge receivers into active learners.
Suitable tasks must be explained and given to students, dividing different sources of information into the following groups:
  • first-grade sources of information: original sources which are not interpreted – photos, studies, documents, shows, films, etc.;
  • second-grade sources of information: magazine articles, data analyses, scientific books, etc.;
  • third-grade sources of information: reports, encyclopaedias, textbooks, etc.
In order to enable a student to work on the internet successfully, he or she needs to know what kind of information they have to search for or what problem they have to solve. Thus, the student has to select an appropriate source of information: TV, the internet, or books. In addition, the student has to answer several questions: sources of which grade must be used? Where do I look for information, and who can help to find it? One should be able to assess how secure the information is, who is its author, when it was generated and where it was published. The student also has to be able to save and structure the information obtained, as well as to know that every piece of information has an author who, in certain cases, has to be referenced in order not to infringe copyright. In addition, the ability to know when to stop is important: since the internet tends to expand endlessly and not all information can be summarised, it's necessary to know when it is time to quit searching!
All of these skills can be developed only by giving students regular tasks, and discussing difficulties and possible solutions. Teachers who teach how to work with information wisely tend not to complain about the endless papers copied from Wikipedia which are impossible to evaluate, and the fact that children do not understand why doing this does not reflect their knowledge.
Just as effectively, students' desire to express their thoughts in social networks, to respond to others' messages, and to evaluate them can be used in the learning process. The method which includes all of the mentioned activities is an e-discussion. It is a discussion on the internet, about a particular subject, in which students express their opinions, justifying them by facts and arguments, or disputing or specifying them – these are the skills needed in everyday life to know how to formulate, justify and defend their own views. The teacher's role is to monitor the course of the discussion, to direct it and to prevent expression of unjustified arguments or unethical attitude toward any of the participants. By means of this method, knowledge is imparted more slowly. However, it most accurately reflects the nature of collective knowledge – modern people gain their knowledge together with others, basing their conclusions on others' words, as well as supplementing them and sharing them with other people.
Teacher of the USA media, M. Prencky, characterises the change of the roles of modern teachers and students in the following way: "We all are the ones who learn, and we all are the ones who teach" - it gives the opportunity to learn from each other, supplementing the knowledge and not fearing to admit that there is still a lot of things to learn for all of us!
Find out more about the work of the Latvian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

Related news

‘MIL for me': an online training resource on media and information literacy

The recent Insafe training meeting played host to a resource competition, designed to showcase the best resources from across the European network of Safer internet Centres (SIC) to identify one which should be translated and localised. Following some fierce competition, the Swedish resource ‘MIL for me' was crowned the winner.