Understanding Perspectives when Reading Online
I hear it all the time as I spend countless hours watching screen captures of students reading online, “This website is reliable because it has all the information I am looking for.”
Why have all of my efforts to teach students to evaluate websites been so futile? I think it is because I relied on the most common approach to teaching website evaluation: providing a checklist of strategies. I now realize this approach relies on two fallacies when reading online: 1) a stable taxonomy of skills exists for online reading, 2) metacognition is an “inside the head” experience.
Creating taxonomy of online reading skills, which can be applied as a universal approach will never work. As fans of Gee and Street note, reading is always a social practice. Using this perspective, every inquiry task students engage in is overlaid with the residue of contexts, culture, relationships, and power structures.
When we provide students with a simple checklist, we are attempting to strip away this context in search for a set of universal skills. Instead we need to focus in on the practices of reading online while introducing a variety of contexts that recognize how perspectives shape the words and images authors use.
Metacognition versus Strategy Exchange
The second fallacy is that metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is a solitary act that happens in the “mind.” After spending the better part of half a decade researching how students read online I realize it is more about strategy exchange than simply thinking about what good readers do.
Students, when they are engaged in the practice of online inquiry, learn when they can share, collaborate, and remix what works when reading multiple sources. It is more of an issue of social regulation rather than self-regulation.
Using Remixes to Understand Perspectives.
How can I focus on the context and encourage strategy exchange? Like most things digital I found the answer at NCTE. I recently had the pleasure of attending my first #HackJam in Chicago this year; organized by the National Writing Project and facilitated by Andrea Zellner. At this event we were introduced to Hackasaurus, a project run by the Mozilla Foundation. Basically using their tool, X-Ray Goggles, a Firefox plug in, you can remix any website. I quickly realized this would be an effective method to get students to consider perspective while reading multiple online sources.
What better way to have students look for markers or credibility as they read by having them rewrite them into websites. My thought was to take two opposing viewpoints on a controversial issue and have students remix and “flip the perspective”
For example they could begin by analyzing remixes I made (in just a few minutes) and look for markers of credibility. I would send them to my remixed Vegan Action page and my remixed National Rifle Association page. Then we would discuss which pages had a more effective message and better markers of credibility. My students would realize that the remixed NRA page used authoritative quotes, credible sources versus the sarcasm on the Vegan Action page.
Ready to Remix
Then I would have my students “flip” perspectives on a controversial issue. I would first provide brief training videos (similar to this one made for teachers): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW8WdkwMW9c
Then I would let students loose and work in small groups to remix two websites by providing the simple tutorial tools provided by hackasaurus.
Building Better Digital Reader and Writers
This project would have many benefits. Students would have opportunities to exchange strategies without decontextualizing the reading. They would work with the html code that is still the backbone of digital writing. Finally they would understand how perspectives shape the words and images authors use while building their argumentative writing skills.