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But - I found it on the Internet!

With so much homework done online, kids need better skills to sort good information from bad

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Ebersole blames the appeal of commercial Web sites for much of the problem. "Commercial sites are user friendly and attractive," he says, adding that many children lack the tools to determine what is legitimate information. "Students find them more easily and [they are] more comfortable to navigate - I don't think they are intentionally goofing off."

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That means educators must place a greater premium on media literacy.

"The art of logical reasoning - once a staple in educational training - will have to be taught again," writes Ms. Hess in Educom Review, a technology and education journal, "for students will need to be better versed in the logical relationship of ideas and information."

At Marlboro College in Brattleboro, Vt., Claudine Keenan is showing new teachers how to address this issue. But her emphasis is not on the delivery of content. Rather, the focus is the thought process of the researcher.

"Our first strategy is how to help students and teachers to be critical readers of any source," says Ms. Keenan. "The skill is not just appropriate to the Internet medium - though the danger is it is much simpler on the Internet - it is valuable in all mediums."

A critical researcher evaluates information on a variety of levels (see guide, pages 16 and 17), deciding what the inherent biases of the content are, who the authors are, what their authority may be, and how the information is validated.

These evaluation skills have equal merit on the Internet and in the library. Tempting as it may be to rely entirely on the Web, it is clear that old-fashioned libraries will continue to be a critical source of information. "The role I see technology playing is that of another tool and a window to the rest of the world," Ms. Davis says. But, she adds, it is "not a substitute for books."

Books, of course, have an advantage over the Internet. For one thing, young scholars don't typically have to worry about finding, say, an Abercrombie fashion advertisement amid the pages of a book on the space shuttle.

But they simplify other issues as well. Turn to the copyright page, and most sourcing questions are quickly resolved. This kind of information evaluation isn't always easy on the Internet. That's why Keenan teaches her students backwards navigation - deleting layers of pages from the Web address until the subject's original source becomes apparent.

"We already hit [the subject] with a search engine, deep within a site," says Keenan, describing what often happens when a student finds information. "We are in a tunnel and we drill up from the cave, break free from the surface, look around with a broader perspective, and get an aerial view."

But even as teachers address authenticating sources, they're dealing with another issue: plagiarism. A click and drag here, a paste and drop there, and suddenly a seventh-grader has pulled together a paper that was more an engineering feat than an intellectual endeavor.

The problem is not limited to students. According to Hess, teachers need to examine their own practices. "Educators are notorious scofflaws," Hess says. "Their attitude is, 'We're not using this to make money, we use it to teach people.' In the old days, teachers xeroxed [books] and publishers looked the other way. We need to get educators to understand they can't bring that same disregard to the digital world."

Cornelia Brunner, associate director of the Center for Children and Technology in New York, acknowledges that the new medium is demanding "huge changes" - and difficult ones. "This is an intellectual can of worms," she notes, "but a fabulous opportunity if we prepare teachers to do it." And, she warns, "If we don't do anything, this will be a failed revolution of education."

Ultimately, of course, the effectiveness of the high-tech change boils down to a familiar constant: teachers. Educators, after all, can shape a student's ability to truly benefit from using the Web. "No matter how wonderful a Web site is," says Davis, "it won't replace a really good teacher."


(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society