My 7th graders led me to an understanding of a skill that I never knew they might need to survive in the 21st Century. That is the skill of careful clicking. Now, this is in no way related to instances of “I accidentally clicked a pop-up and it took me to that site.” No it’s far more innocuous than that. For our activity in class today, I had a link to a Google Spreadsheet followed by instructions for the activity. No fewer than 40 of my 90 students clicked the link to the spreadsheet and sat there with dumbfounded looks on their faces of “Now what do we do?” Had they continued reading even another sentence after the link they would have seen that I suggested the Ctrl+Click the link to open it in a new tab so they could go back and forth between the instructions and the data.
Our students live in a click happy world. They see a link and like Alice are drawn to that underlined blue typeface by an overwhelming sense of “CLICK ME”. The reference to Alice is by no means without merit. Had she resisted the urgings of some of the potent potables she found in Wonderland, her trip may have been far less interesting. The same is true for our students and link clicking.
There is an art to getting lost in links. On occasion, there is nothing quite like following a link from one blog post, to another, to an article from a journal, then into another article…and on and on until you hardly have any idea how you wound up where you are in the Web. Tremendous learning can take place in this situation because the links are very meaningful at the time. We know from experience that meaningful activities produce some of the strongest learning.
Why else would an application like StumbleUpon exist?? The fact that a program can help you take a website you are reading and “stumble upon” another similar website makes the Internet a very interesting place. Sometimes you stumble upon something worthwhile, sometimes it’s nothing at all, but it draws people in to information. Wikipedia an other hyperlinked sites have a similar effect. You begin reading one entry, and that leads you down the rabbit hole to entry after entry after entry.
However, in the world where advertising and phishing scams run amok on the Internet, we really need to teach our students about careful clicking. At times it is important to resist that urge to click the dozen links and really dig down into a single article and pull from it what information you can. At times we should be deliberate about where we go to seek out information and not just hope to stumble upon something interesting. At times we should step back from Wikipedia and see if there are deeper more specific locations for the information we seek.
Everything in moderation? Too much of one thing ain’t good for nobody? As with anything, these are conversations that are good to have with students. Discuss the value of getting lost in links sometimes, but remind them there is value in digging deeper as well. After all, not everything they have to read yet “clicks”…though I don’t think that day is too far in the future…
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