Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

New Literacies for an Online Flattened World, Primed to Promote Global Understanding

Keynote Speaker: Global Issues in the Classroom

 

Debbie was thinking about teaching or thinking about going to Mexico and working and stuff, but we went and we got very excited. Afterwards we went down and said, "Um now, is it possible for the two of us to be guaranteed the same location in the Peace Corps if we're not married?" And the person shook his head, he said, "We've been down that road, culturally inappropriate, not going to work, forget about it, won't happen."

So we are walking back. Now the sixties is a time when the system, at least according to us youngsters, was corrupt and the whole goal of your life was to beat the system. You'd go around the system anytime you could—I mean that was the common strategy on campus. So we're walking back and I'm talking to Debbie and I say. "Look Deb, all we have to do"—now this was a time of curfew too. She had to be in by eleven o'clock. That'll tell you how long ago this was. I said, "Look, okay, let's just fill out the form Mr. and Mrs., who's to know? We'll just fill it out; they won't ever know." And by the time we got back I had her convinced, so we filled it out Mr. and Mrs.

Christmas break came, I was out in California with my parents and she was in Michigan and she called me up and said, "Did you see the letter? It came from the Peace Corps?" I said, "Yeah, yeah, it's exciting isn't it?" And she said, "Read that letter." I said, "Well look, it first says congratulations! We have a position for you on the Marshall Islands teaching English as a second language. You have to show up in San Jose on August 6th." She said, "Read the last sentence." Please be certain to bring a copy or your marriage license. [Audience laughter] I said, "We'll talk when I get back." So there it is. We had to get married to go into the Peace Corps is what happened. And it was quite an adventure ever since. We've been married, oh goodness, yes forty years, so there it is. Such a great adventure.

It's a pleasure to be here, too. And you know once you're a Peace Corps Volunteer you're always a Volunteer, always are. It is just the nature of the game and it is a pleasure to be here today with other Volunteers.

I need to also celebrate my research team. Everything we do, we do collaboratively. I also need to make mention of the people who pay the bills in our research lab. And here are the points I want to talk about today.

First of all, I want to make the point that the internet is this generation's defining technology for reading and learning, and I'm going to make that point worldwide, not just in the U.S., worldwide.

Second, I'm going to make the point that internet requires new reading comprehension skills that are nowhere in our curricula. These are new skills and strategies, and we tend to think our students are very sophisticated with technology–and they are with certain technologies—but with information I'm going to make the point that they are really digital doofuses…They do not know information, and it's a huge challenge for educational systems around the world.

Third, I want to talk a little bit about research in a federally funded research band on teaching new literacies in online comprehension and classrooms around the world. And then finally what we can do together to prepare a new generation of global citizens.

So here is the first point: this generation's defining technology for reading and learning is really the internet. I've got a little quiz to make this point, ten items. You can make your best guesses, just keep them to yourself, and I'll show you the answer. The first question is: How many people do you think currently have access to the internet and regularly read, write and communicate online? Is it 500 million, 250 million, about 750 million or about 1.6 billion people? Got your guess? Answer is 1.6 billion. Almost one out of every four people on this planet read, write and communicate on the internet today.

Now if you don't believe me, you don't have to. The best source–and you can look at how they calculate these statistics, nobody has the exact number because this thing is changing all the time, so these are always best estimates from data as much as a year old, but this does a very rigorous job—you can find it at "Internet World Stats" on the internet. And this is the table of, I think this was March, I just checked it last night—they've updated it to August and the numbers are a little bit greater than this, but look at these numbers!

Here you go: 1.6 billion people in the world, internet users. That's almost 25%, one out of every four. Look here in North America–Mexico, Canada and the U.S.: 250 million, and that's about 75% of the population. But look here: Europe has more individuals connected to the internet than the United States by about a third, and look at Asia. Asia has almost three times as many individuals connected to the internet as North America. And look down here: these are, of all of the internet users, all of that 1.6 billion, where do they come from? Look at this small piece of the pie: 15% comes from North America. 85% of the individuals who have access and use the internet around the world are not in North America –they are in other nations.

That is a shocking set of statistics I have to tell you. We tend to think we invented this thing here, we own it, and I'll tell you we are a miniscule part of the players online right now. Especially in Asia where exponential growth is taking place there. This is exponential growth all over and the projection is in five years, half of the world will be connected to the internet, easily. We'll make that easily. It just means doubling in five years; we'll double it in three I'm pretty sure, and in ten years the entire world, minus some small populations, maybe 98-99% of the world's population in ten years will be connected to the internet.

Now think about that for a second, both for the schools, people here from schools in the U.S., the profound impact it's going to have on us, but also think about it from the Peace Corps' point of view, the profound impact that will have because your Peace Corps Volunteers are going to be teaching in a very different context from what you're imagining them to be. It's going to be very distinctive and I'll show you some stories later on about this.

How about number two? In 2005, this is four years ago, in Accra, Ghana, how many adolescents–this is from a study in the most prestigious journal of sociological research. A study in Accra, Ghana, of adolescents, how many adolescents report having gone online? 5%, 66%, 37% or 51%? Got your guess? It's two-thirds. Two-thirds of adolescents in Accra, Ghana, report in this study having gone online, in school primarily, and in internet cafes. Not so much at home, but school and internet cafes.

How about this one? In 2005, again four years ago, did adolescents in North America read more on the internet or more with books and other printed material? This is a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation Report in 2005, and they read more online four years ago. 48 minutes per day compared to 43 minutes per day reading off-line in traditional text materials. That was the tipping point year when our adolescents started spending more time reading, writing on the internet than they did with traditional text materials.

How about this one, this is interesting. Which nation manufactures the most software in the world? Is it U.S., Indonesia, India, or Ireland? Some of you may have been following the New York Times ; if you're a New York Times reader you should know the answer, it's Ireland. Ireland, according to a study in the OECD (Organization for Economic Development Corporation), manufactures more software than the U.S.

Now there is a story behind this. Fifteen years ago they invested in reading and ICT (Information Communication Technologies). They infused the internet into their classrooms in 20 model schools and they learned the lessons about teaching what needed to be taught, and how to teach it, and passed it out to the rest of the schools in the nation. They were concerned about preparing their citizens for work in an information age that was networked and required the ability to read and communicate online, because they knew that companies will go anywhere in the world as long as there's a trained work force for these high-end jobs. They wanted to attract high-end jobs by having a high-end work force and as a result of that, companies came to Ireland. Microsoft has a major center there. But not just tech companies, we lost insurance companies from Hartford, Connecticut. A lot of them went to Ireland because they had a better-prepared work force that could work in an online information environment to identify problems, gather information online, solve it, and communicate it out to other people in the company.

Ireland, they suffered like everybody else in this economic crash, but they import workers now. Their economy before this crash, I haven't got the latest information on how they are doing with this crash, but it was a boom economy. It was called the "Celtic Tiger" in Europe. And in fact, the New York Times reported land in Dublin for an apartment building, if you wanted to buy the land for an apartment building, was more expensive than land in Manhattan because it was such a boom economy…Incredible story of what happens when you invest in your schools, and also a story of the increasing globalization of the world. Now some nations have paid attention to this. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not, but some nations have paid attention.

Here's one country that paid attention…each of these nations has a slightly different public policy. This public policy that they chose to use here was to invest in teachers. They provide all of their teachers with five weeks' paid release time professional development at integrating the internet and these new reading comprehension skills into the curriculum K-12. All of their teachers go through a national training model and they are pulled out of the classrooms, a substitute is there, five weeks they get training in this and then they go back, because this country wants to prepare its citizens for high-end information online jobs. Got your guess which country? It's Finland. Yep, Finland. Their economy is based around high-end jobs. ICT economy is what it's called.

How about this one: Which nation in North America has a plan now, national plan, public policy, to ensure internet access to every home and every school to prepare its citizens for the twenty-first century? Is it Canada, Mexico, or the U.S.? It's actually Mexico. Canada does not have a plan; the U.S. does not have a plan. Mexico has a plan; now it's a fifteen-year plan to be sure, but they're at about year four or year five. It's called E-Mexico and you can find it online if you want. But they have a plan and a target and they're moving there because they know their kids have to be prepared to work in an online age of information with the new reading and writing skills required.

How about this one: Here's another country that implemented a slightly different policy. They know kids read outside of school more than they read in school. I don't know if you know this or not but if you look at all of the studies where kids read, they spend more time reading outside of school than they do in school. Well they knew this and they wanted to provide internet access to every home in their nation at an affordable rate so they subsidized a very high speed network. 16 times faster than the best you can get broadband here with Comcast or anyone else. 16 times faster, think about that. The change is greater than when you went from modem to broadband, going from broadband to ultra-high broadband in this country is even greater. So it's instantaneous and they can get anything, and teachers can make assignments because they know every child has the internet at home. They can make assignments that require reading and looking for information online. They too want to prepare their children for this new world. Got your guess? It's Japan, according to an article in Foreign Affairs, a very prestigious foreign policy journal.

Let's turn our attention to the U.S. How many states in the U.S. measure students' ability to read search engine results on their state reading assessments? This is a hugely important reading skill and I'll explain why in a minute. Got your guess? Not one, nope, not on any of our state reading assessments. Reading of search engine results—like a Google page of search engine result—and the question might be, "If you were looking for a site that had an Egyptologist there, where would you go?" You see, that would be like a multiple-choice question, easily.

How many states in the U.S. permit the use of word processors on state writing assessments for any student who wishes to do so? Now these are not IEP students who also often get it in an accommodation, but any student if they think they can write better with the word processor, logically, they should be able to, because you are trying to get their best performance, but how many states permit that? Not one. Now what's that all about? We know in a study in Massachusetts that 19% more high school students would pass the MCAST, a Massachusetts State Writing Assessment, if they were only permitted to use a word processor. Massachusetts is a high stakes state. You can't graduate from high school unless you pass the state writing assessment, and yet they're failing 19% of their students because they require them to use paper and pencil, tools that are somewhat archaic to many of our high school students today.

How many states assess online reading comprehension in their state reading assessments? Like reading a web page? None, although I've heard Virginia, and I've heard North Carolina, is thinking about putting in an item or two on this one.

So what can we conclude? Well, the internet is clearly this generation's defining technology for reading. That's where our kids are reading, that's where they are going to need to read increasingly, and we have a very special opportunity here with the internet: profound, exponential changes taking place to prepare a new generation of globalized citizens. Now why is this important?

Well, the basic reason I'd like to say, it makes us more civilized as a world—I'd like to say that—but it isn't. It's driven by economic considerations. Work places are far more productive when the internet is integrated, much more productive. And all of the work and economics that studies this issue reaches the same conclusion that much of the productivity gains that we've seen in nations around the world recently have been driven by the infusion of the internet into the work place. Makes people solve problems much faster and communicate solutions much faster; they become much more productive.

So OECD, I've been working with them on a couple of assessments. One that's going on right now, the PISA International Reading Assessment, we have a component measuring online reading comprehension, it's called Digital Literacies, and we're working right now with ETS to develop an assessment of workplace literacy that includes problem-solving in information-rich environment—which is basically the internet—and it's a reading comprehension assessment on the internet. Why? Nations around the world want these data to see how their citizens are doing in terms of being able to read, write, and communicate on the internet.

Unfortunately the U.S. has chosen not to participate in the Digital Literacies assessment of PISA. We happen to think—our National Center for Educational Statistics here in town thinks that NAEP is our gold standard here, and they don't want anything to jeopardize that, but NAEP has none of this, has no online comprehension reading skills in it at all, at all.

What are these new online reading comprehension skills? Well, here's what they are and they overlap with traditional reading. Actually it's quite interesting, quite a complex and rich picture, but they fall into these five categories. There are new reading skills required on the internet to develop a really good problem, and reading on the internet is basically, if you look at it, it's not just reading a web page, it's a screen—and it's not a static screen. When you read on the internet you have a problem, you have a question and you're trying to find the answer or figure out the solution. So I was trying to figure out how to winterize my 25-horsepower engine, that was my problem, and so what do you do when you have a problem or a question? Well, you search, you locate. There are new reading skills related to locating information and our kids are very poor at this, quite frankly; I'll talk about that in a minute. You evaluate the information and largely the source but other types of evaluation, too. You want to know how credible this person is, can I believe it? Anyone can publish anything of course, and you don't know if you can believe it or not so there are new reading skills.

First of all being skeptical, taking a skeptical stance, that's initially; whereas our kids in schools are not trained to be skeptical of information they read in their textbooks—that's the authority. On the internet they have got to be skeptical initially. And then there are new reading skills required to locate the source of the information and to evaluate it, very important skills.

Synthesizing information from multiple sources, and then we include writing in here, because if you watch yourself working on the internet you don't simply read, you're communicating all day long. Messages are coming in. I kept bugging Marjorie with all these messages and I could just imagine her in her office trying to solve the problems of this conference and then here comes another message from that Dr. Leu, got to solve this one too, okay yep, here you go.

We read and write simultaneously on the internet and so we include writing within our comprehension model. Here's the model, just a quick picture of it [showing the example on projection screen] from the New York Times article that talked about some of the work we were doing at our New Literacies Research Lab. But you see in the first part: identifying questions and finding sources, that's locating the problem, then evaluating and synthesizing, and then communicating, and that's pretty much how it works. When we're reading on the internet that's what we do. We have a problem, we locate information, and we should be evaluating it.

I don't know if you know this or not, but 75% of adults when they read health sites never check the source, never. Never check the source, and sometimes these are life and death decisions that they're making. So those locate skills are really important. Synthesize, communicate, all of those skills.

We've been developing assessments of this, and we have a large federal research grant right now. I won't bore you with statistics, but the numbers say, yeah, these are pretty good tests, these are pretty valid, pretty reliable tests. And we've got a four year project now to evaluate multiple-choice format, open internet assessments–that is you give students problems and they can go anywhere—and then a closed simulation environment of the internet, where you create an artificial internet and you populate it with information and then you create items within that to evaluate that in terms of reliability, validity, and then of course practicality for schools.

Here is data that really caught our attention. [Pointing to graph on projection screen] This is a correlation matrix between CMT reading comprehension down at the bottom; you see down here this is Connecticut Mastery Tests, that's our state reading comprehension assessment, these are seventh graders. And here is online reading comprehension scores, so low down here, high up here with the state reading, low here, high here. Now state reading is only offline reading comprehension assessment, that doesn't mean it is administered offline, but it means those are the skills you have; paragraphs, multiple choice, that's typical state assessment.

Over here for online, we would give students a problem and the problem might be in an email message with an attachment, a Word document, and so they'd have to go in to their email account, open up the document, read the problem then solve the problem and then maybe post the solution on a blog site—tapping in a whole variety of online reading comprehension skills. So that's what it is. If these two tapped into the same skills you'd find a nice linear correlation somewhere in the middle of this band here as you went up on state reading, you'd go up with online reading. You see, and there would be a nice correlation.

We found zero correlation; there was a non-significant correlation between the two. Very surprising, reading—everything—correlates because it is all language based. But look up here, see this student here [pointing to picture on projection screen]: very high online reading comprehension, but our weakest state reader, this was a Special Education student, IEP student, very high online reader. And this is a phenomenon we find regularly, we find about 10-20% of our students in our lowest-track middle school classrooms being very good at reading on the internet and our schools don't know these students exist.

We have not conducted thorough, thorough multiple studies on this issue, but I can tell you we find it every time we go into middle schools and high schools and we work with the lowest tracked classroom. It's there, it's always 10-20%, and they're quite good, and I'll explain why that is in a minute. But the issue here is these are different types of skills that are required; that's what this correlation matrix shows. Zero correlation, they're not correlated; there's something different, different skills are required to read on the internet. Now there are some of the same skills but it ends up like that locating skill. If you don't have good online reading skills to locate information you can't read on the internet because you can't find the information you need to solve your problem, do you see that? And the same thing with critical evaluation: if you're led astray and you answer it in a stupid way, then you're really not very successful. So there are some of these new skills that end up being hugely important to online reading comprehension.

Here's the summary of our working theory now from interviewing. We've done a number of case studies of these students and these challenged readers who read better online, you just can't believe this, that they could do that. We videotape all of our students and all of our studies, we have a little tool called Camtasia [that] resides on the laptop, it's a software tool and it captures a video of everything that happens on the screen so that we can go back and play it later and it captures audio and so we can have students do think-alouds to see what they are thinking while they are reading on the internet.

That's basically the way we study these things, but these challenged readers, when we find them we interview them and it's a common pattern: they all say they have the internet at home and that they're reading online. When they go home from school they are spending their time on the internet, they are really reading. Now they are very slow readers; as you watch them they are dis-fluent, as most challenged readers are. They are not fast readers; they are very slow and dis-fluent. Their word-recognition skills are not very good. But they have online skills: they know how to use a search engine, they know how to locate information, they know how to navigate a website and find the information, they know how to get the information they need. Why is that?

Well, they have great locating skills, that's a common characteristic. They always have really good locating skills because they're online everyday when they go home. They don't learn these at school by the way, they learn it at home. So at home they might be doing Manga or anime, you know in a discussion board or looking for things and stuff. Or the story that one girl told us, we work in poor school districts, this girl said, "We don't have a lot of money and my mom's a single mom, but we got the internet," and I said, "Oh, so tell me, do you ever use it?" She said "Yep, after school everyday. I pretend read." I thought that was one word, is this a new pop culture thing that I don't know? Not pretend read, pretend shop, that's what it was, pretend shop. This is a new pop culture thing like Manga, I was the last one to know about this stuff. I use to call them comic books right, well what is it? Graphic novels, that's it, a high-end term. So I said "pretend shop," I didn't know what it was, "tell me about that." And she said, "Well, I like to look and shop for things that I can't buy now but maybe some day I might be able to afford them." And that's how she developed these skills of locating and evaluating, she was very sophisticated about finding things and evaluating things.

Also there are shorter units of text if you look at your online reading versus offline, a typical assignment in school you get a chapter in science to read right? These kids will shut down. They won't read that. That's just too painful, too hard. It'll take them forever and ever; they'll never get through it, won't understand anything, just not going there. But on the internet the units of text are very short.

Think about this, search engine results, those are very short. You go to a web page, you're just looking for the link that's going to take you down to the information you need. And then when you get that information if it's lengthy, some of these kids know how to "CTRL-F," do you know what that is? You "CTRL-F" for a find. The box is up at the top. You type in the word that you're looking for, like, I don't know, "handbag," I don't know, but you get a lot of text and you're looking for every instance of "handbag." And then you hit enter, enter, enter and each word of "handbag" on that screen pops up. They know how to locate and search even though their skimming and scanning may not be great they can find things they need on that page.

So shorter units of text reduce that fluency issue, and the other part of it is their choosing the text that they read. They construct their text by the choices they make, the links they follow, from one link to another. So their engagement is much higher than when their sitting here reading static texts: they have no choice in this matter. Do you see that? So their engagement is much higher, their attending to what's going on.

And then finally if you think about it these web pages are really graphic images and these kids, if they're good at one thing, they're good at reading pictures and images. They're very good at reading pictures and images and they will interpret images much better than I will. And so on a web page, every screen on the internet is really a graphic image, so they're doing pretty well. This is a very supportive environment for them. And most schools tell kids that, "Well, you can't read on the internet until you know how to read, until you get better at reading. Get your homework done first." These are always the last kids to have access to the internet at schools.

I'm sorry I went on so long about that, but I care deeply about that. We are really denying youngsters opportunities here and especially opportunities that are going to be central to their success in life.

From this think-aloud protocol stuff that we've been doing, we have a preliminary set of skills and strategies that we use in all of our instructional research studies now. If you want that just email me, and I'll send you the document. If you want to go to our website you can locate it there, but if you can't find it just email me and I'll send you the Phase One and Phase Two skills and strategies we use in our instructional model. This is all, by the way, quite new. We've had this grant now for three years and we're just starting to publish things, but there's a chapter about it on our "Publications" page that describes this instructional model and presents the skills list that we use.

Let me show you now an example of what online reading comprehension is all about. It's a little disturbing, but it points out the centrality of these new skills and how important they are for a generation that we want to raise that are globally aware and digitally knowledgeable.

Let's imagine myself as a sixth-grade reader/seventh-grade reader, and I've got an assignment, and the assignment is to write a report about a famous American. I chose Martin Luther King. I'm at home now and I'm working on my assignment; I've got an internet connection at home. So I Google, "Martin Luther King," and this screen came up. [Indicates web page on screen] Now I know how to search for things so I'm advantaged right away, but now there are reading skills required to read a set of search engine results, and so just in a heartbeat I look up here and dismiss this information. I don't go there because it says "sponsored links," I'm not interested in commercial links, really don't want that. People pay Google money for the click-throughs that come through here, and I don't go to sponsored sites, I just don't.

So then I start up at the top and I look at the top, and I'm thinking, "Oh books. Maybe I can get some books here. Maybe this would be good. Maybe there are online free books I can get about Martin Luther King to help me with my report." And then I look here: books.google.com. Out of there, that's a commercial, this is Google. They put their books page up at the top; I'm a little upset here. They think I'm stupid; I'm not stupid, I'm not going there, I want other stuff, I don't want commercially-tainted stuff.

I look at the news results, and this was during the time a year ago when the newspapers were falling apart. And one strategy they took was to pay Google click-through rates for their articles to get more readership and get more people visiting their online sites. It didn't work especially well for them but they did that, and I'm looking here, and I'm thinking, you know, this is just like Google with sponsored links, but they didn't tell me they put news results up here. I'm betting that they're paying for this too, so I'm skipping there.

So I go down to the next one; it's Wikipedia. I read that and my teacher says I can't use Wikipedia in the classroom. (I can't believe it, I don't agree with that. But I think it is a good initial site, not the only site to be using.) So I can't use that. So then I go to the next one, "Martin Luther King Jr. True Historical Examination." Ooh, true, I like that. That's good. And then it says here "historical trivia" and I'm thinking, "Oh, I could put a little trivia contest in my report that would give me bonus points, extra credit." And it also says teachers and students alike look at this, this is a good thing. I'll bet I can copy and paste my way through this book report, I'll be done in two minutes here, this'll be good [audience laughing].

Finally I go here and it says "MartinLutherKing.org" and my teacher said dot-orgs are good sites. I'm thinking, "Okay, this is the place I want to go." Do you see some of those reading skills and evaluation skills that I was using there?

Now here's where I go: I am a very skeptical reader and I want to find out who created it. So I look upper right, I look upper left, nothing. Immediately bells and whistles go off. Somebody is not playing fair because I did not find an "about this site" link or "who we are," or a link to give me information about who created this site. They're hiding things, I'm thinking. These are all reading skills now. I'm reading my way through this page. They're hiding something. Where can I go on this page to find out who created it? Well the only place is way down at the bottom, and it says "hosted by Storm Front." And I can make an inference, this is a reading comprehension inference now, "hosted by Storm Front," that's going to tell me who created this site. They're hosting this site, let me click there and see if I can find out who these people are, because I've got a lot of suspicions going on. And I go here, look up here: "White Pride World Wide." Look here: "Storm Front White Nationalist Community."

This is a white supremacist organization that bought the URL "MartinLutherKing.org" long ago. And they use it to recruit new members, students in our schools, with their filth. It is incredible, but this is a free speech issue, they own the right to this site. Now, fortunately, this site is blocked in all of our schools from the filters. But I'm working at home. It's not blocked at my house. And unless I have those good critical evaluation skills, I'm going to be submitting a report with all of this vile and nonsense and viciousness, and I'm going to shock my teacher. Now that's why these reading skills are so essential for our students. Not just students in the U.S., students all over the world, because if we're trying to promote a world that's more tolerant, more understanding, we have to have readers who are critically thoughtful and evaluate the information they encounter, because it's not just about Martin Luther King, it's just about everything out there. You can find a lot of vile about just about anything. And we want our students to be able to evaluate the wheat from the chaff, to think critically and carefully about the world that they are going to be developing.

Now I said before, our students we think of as digital natives and they're actually, I don't like to use this word…but they are, especially when they confront me with their expertise. They know a lot of things. They know MP3s, they know video downloads, they know texting like nobody's business, and they know social networking. They're very good in those areas. But with information they are digital doofuses, they do not know information, they really do not. And that's our role and that's what we can do as we connect schools with schools around the world.

Half of our students in economically-challenged districts in South Carolina and in Connecticut at the seventh grade level, population of about 1,200 students we sampled, half of them never used a search engine. They used what we call a "dot.com strategy" to locate information. What's that? Well, we would ask them a question. When was George Washington born? They'd go up and they'd type in "GeorgeWashington.com" in the address bar. Say… how many years did President Lincoln serve as President? President Lincoln.com. When did the Iraq War start, the first one? IraqWar.com. And if they don't get what they want, FirstIraqWar.com.

50% of our students don't use a search engine for their initial search. Do you know where this comes from? It's their pop culture. I don't know any of these pop culture icons. The most recent one I know is Madonna or something… I don't know. But like Chris Brown, I'm making this up but I think there's a Chris Brown. I think he's a hottie, is that what they call him? [audience laughing] Okay, so Chris Brown. Well, much of the information, most of the information our students read or adolescents read is their rock stars, heroes and the social networking stuff. So when they need to search for something on Chris Brown, ChrisBrown.com is going to give them everything they need. Do you see that? That's why they take this dot.com strategy. Only half of our kids use a search engine.

Of those that use the search engine, half of those kids use the "click-and-look" strategy; they do not read search engine results. They simply click their way down the page, looking at each screen that opens up. And they evaluate the screen visually, not in terms of the textual information. So if you give a problem, "Here's a page of search engine results. Find a link that was created by an Egyptologist," and it says that—"created by an Egyptologist"—they will not notice that and they will evaluate it visually. Half of our kids evaluate web pages that way in a search engine.

We took our 50 best online readers, these were our top 50 readers, and gave them a problem and said, "Can you locate this site called the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and tell this teacher in California if it's reliable enough that they should include it on their web page of endangered species?" So this is the web page they went to [showing page on projection screen]. 100% of our top, well it was actually 42 readers, said this was reliable or very reliable. Now you may not know anything about the Pacific Northwest, but I can tell you there are no Tree Octopuses that live out there. It's completely bogus, this is a spoof site. There's a whole set of them.

You can go to one called the "California Velcro Crop" to find out w hethe r or not the Velcro crop is having a good year out in the fields this year. Or you can go to one called "Dehydrated Water," and you can buy bottles of dehydrated water there, which is basically air. So these are spoof sites. It's a genre that you can find them at Snopes.com.

If you don't know Snopes, Snopes is a bogus-busting site and you can find them there or just Google "spoof sites" and you'll find them. They're great fun and very good to teach critical evaluation. All of our best readers in our economically-challenged school districts—and these are good state readers by the way—believe this stuff. Completely believed it, said "oh, yeah."

Do you know how they evaluate reliability? It's on volume. If there's enough information for a school assignment, it's reliable. That's their judgment. We will find some differences in our high-end. We've got some International Baccalaureate diploma schools here. Some of your students will be very sophisticated in this area but you will also have some who are not. But the vast majority of our students are not sophisticated when it comes to information, there's the data. How should we teach these?

We've been working on an instructional model we call Internet Reciprocal Teaching or IRT, in one-to-one laptop classrooms. And we work in one-to-one laptop classrooms because our research we know is being done today so that ten years from now it will have an impact on schools, so we want to work in one-to-one laptop classrooms. We're pretty convinced that within seven years all the classrooms in the U.S. will be in a one-to-one environment. I have no doubt about that actually, and I will lay even money on that if anyone wants to take me up on a bet on that. There may be some exceptions, a few exceptions, don't get me wrong, but it'll be like 90% of classrooms will be in one-to-one laptop environments. Maine is already there.

A number of other states have initiatives under way. North Carolina has an initiative under way; they're going after federal money to do this. The Race to the Top, you know that money, if you know anything about that, some states are going after it, but it's inevitable. And states will have to provide the money; districts do not have the resources to make this affordable. States or the national government will, and it's inevitable because we have to compete in the global economic environment, and our kids have to be prepared.

So we work in a one to one laptop model and we've been developing an instructional model. It's three phases, has a gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the student for these online reading comprehension strategies. We teach those skills that came out of our think-alouds, that skill checklist I said I'd send you if you're interested. Phase One skills are all nuts and bolts. This is just like, how does email work? And we use email. How do I attach a message? How does a browser work? What's a search engine? How does it work? How do I turn on my machine? But we teach these skills directly and you'd be surprised, you'd think all of our students would have these skills; a lot of them do not. And we teach these skills directly and in the first two weeks we want to get out of this phase, because we want to go on to the really critical online reading comprehension skills in Phase Two.

And here what we do is we teach around problems. We determine the skill we want to teach. When you're working in a one-to-one laptop classroom, you cannot teach the way you do normally. Everything changes, it absolutely changes. Your kids have their screens up they can go anywhere they want, right? Not listen to you. So one of the tools we use is Apple Remote Desktop, which puts a thumbnail of each student's laptop on my computer. And so I can see where every kid is. And as soon as the first kid, in the first day goes to Chris Brown's site, Bingo! I hit it, it goes up on the screen and I say "Oh, I wonder whose going to Chris's site today?" And, zip, it goes away. And then they know that I know. And if you depend on walking around for this, they'll just zip right out of there before you get there. They'll close that window and you will never even know. But Apple Remote Desktop is a great management tool. And we also use it to distribute the skills and strategies.

As I said you can't teach directly at the front of the room and say, "Boys and girls, today we're going to learn how to critically evaluate the source of information that you encounter"… they're gone, they are gone and they're not listening. So the strategy we have discovered is to give them a problem where that skill is required to solve that problem. Put them in groups to work together to solve the problem related to the curriculum, w hethe r it's math, science or social studies, and as soon as that skill emerges and we see it, we distribute it around for everyone and the student who did it first, they're the teacher and they explain what they did and why they did it. And then other kids can chime in on the strategies that they use and then everyone can solve the problem we're done.

Here is an example, seventh-grade language arts. We are reading about Japan. I come in and I say, "Alright, boys and girls, I was up all night, I've got a problem you are not going to be able to solve today, nobody. Three parts… first part, find out how high Mount Fuji is." They say, "Bring it on, Dr. Leu, that's a one-clicker, come on." [audience laughing] I say, "Two more. Second problem, find a different answer to that same question." Now they're thinking ooh. This is a great strategy by the way. Any answer you have you can find an alternative answer on the internet. When was Abraham Lincoln born? Try that one, you'll get multiple answers. "Okay, and the third part is, who's right and why?"

So the skill I'm trying to teach in this lesson is source evaluation. Critical evaluation of information sources and I'm watching my Apple Remote Desktop, I'm walking around, watching the groups and as soon as I see that first student click on "about this site" I stop everything, I click and say, "Jose, you are the man today. Tell us what you just did because you have the keys to the kingdom today, my friend. What did you do?" And he said, "Well, I was trying to figure out which site to believe and I wanted to find out who made the information." That is exactly right. So he's clicking and showing us the information he got— doing a think-aloud basically—in terms of what he was doing. Teaching the skill to everyone around a problem they have to solve.

Now there's five minutes left in class and they're all scurrying around trying to solve the problem. We have a few minutes at the end to share our thinking about this and we're done with the lesson. It takes only fifteen or twenty minutes everyday, not the whole, not everyday, but twice a week we do this, and it teaches these online reading comprehension skills. Including, you know making Wiki entrees. That's part of our communications package. Creating a Wiki and so forth. Anyway, this Phase Two is really exciting; it's great fun to teach.

Phase Three though, is what we're all about here today. In Phase Three, now that they have these skills in place, now we want them to engage in independent inquiry projects. So Phase Three they have the skills in place now we want them to do inquiry. Our first part, Part A is within the classroom, individual inquiry projects so they understand how inquiry works. For those of you of the younger generation, back in the day we called this a report, but now we call it inquiry. So they're doing online inquiry.

Okay, but Part B is a collaborative inquiry project with a student somewhere else in the world. Now that they know how inquiry works, now we connect them up with a student in another part of the world who has a common interest. It might be, for example, a student in France who has been reading about Gary Paulsen, the author, adolescent author of adolescent literature. And a student in my class wants to get together with that student and create a web page all about Gary Paulsen for other students who are reading about this author and want to find out about this person. See, that'd be a great inquiry project. Put it up and evaluate the reliability of sources.

We use E-pals for message-of-the-day projects during the beginning part of this phase. We want to expose our students to the global context, and what does that mean? What's the message of the day? Well, here's how morning message of the day works. This is the initial connection with schools around the world with classrooms that are unfamiliar with this.

We use E-pals, you can use Gaggle, you can use another one. Full disclosure here: I'm on the advisory board for E-pals, just so you know that, but I like it, it's a good tool. And so what we do is I find teachers out on E-pals, and there's about 50,000 teachers who have their little summaries about their classes there, and I'll just email them and I'll say I want a teacher in Australia. Let's say I'm teaching seventh grade. Seventh grade teacher in Australia, one in Japan and one in Germany, one in Argentina, and I send them all a message: "Let's have a morning message of the day project on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the month of February, no let's do November, the month of November." We will each send one another; send all of us a message describing what took place in our classrooms that day. You can have your students write this, you can write this, either way but on Tuesdays and Thursdays we'll send our messages out and find out what's going on in classrooms all over the world.

So it comes. I have my weakest reader, I always make my weakest reader my email helper, and I teach that student in about ten minutes how E-pals works. The messages come in, this student copies all of the messages, pastes them into a Word document so that its all in one document, prints it out, front and back, 25 copies. We put it on the desk for the kids when they come in tomorrow. They come in the morning, they're getting organized, and they're reading messages from classrooms around the world and asking questions. "How come the Australian schools have summer vacation next month? What's that all about? That's not fair." And more complex issues than that, of course. Then I either assign this to a group to write a message about what we did or I'll take a dictated message with younger students and my weakest reader will type it, spell check it, and out it goes.

Here are some things; I mean it's just incredible on E-pals the number of classrooms you can go. You go to classroom match and here's a profile [displaying site on projection screen]: "I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama teaching computer skills to four, five, sixth-grade students. I'd like to give them the opportunity for cross cultural E-pals email exchange with a U.S. " Bingo bango bongo, I am home free, do you see what I'm saying? You would be surprised if you search for "Peace Corps" at E-pals, you will get about 25 teachers coming up, and for the Peace Corps organization this is something to attend to, these are your pioneers out there doing very creative things. This is going to be the world of teachers in the Peace Corps within ten years. They will be connected and they will be doing these kinds of things, and our schools of education are not preparing them, so you need to think about how to prepare these new Volunteers for global exchange projects around the world.

Here's another one: Peace Corps Volunteer originally from New York City currently serving in Bulgaria: "I'm teaching English, five eighth grades, love to set up a pen pal classroom." Here's a teacher in Ghana: "I teach English and basic cultural studies in ICT. My school provides quality education for the very poor people in one of Ghana 's rural areas at an affordable fee." And they've got internet connection there, do you see that? We can connect with classrooms, classroom-to-classroom projects now, that are very profound and raise a whole new generation of students, globally aware.

There are other locations, too. You can go to Oz Projects or Global School Net to connect up with teachers. We're conducting a current research study on best practices on these global collaborative projects between classrooms, and if anyone is interested you can email me or email the doctorial student who's working with me on this, Heidi, and her email address is there if you go to slide share you can get her address there on the slideshow.

And what can we do together? Here are a couple of suggestions for the Peace Corps. Peace Corps people you need to be thinking now and preparing for a far larger role in supporting online global connections among Volunteers in schools. This is going to profoundly change the nature of your Volunteer experience in school classrooms around the world. The image in our mind is no, they don't have it. I'm telling you they're getting it, and they will have it, so you need to prepare students. Also you need to think about developing a new cohort of teachers for the connected world. Maybe a cadre, a select cadre of teachers that you're going to learn these lessons with and start the ball rolling with. And then you should be supporting, I'm sure you're supporting, initiatives in host nations.

What about for teachers, what can we do together? Use child-safe email, E-pals or Gaggle are both child-safe, they screen you into the system, and you monitor each message that goes out. Your schools resist this like the dickens. They think it's horrible, all kinds of bad things are going to happen, but these are child-safe email systems. It's just that your school systems tend to not be very knowledgeable about this area. So the suggestion I have is go your principal and say, "I want to do a pilot study." Show him how safe it is and you'll just use it in my classroom to show, to evaluate how it works. Don't try and do the whole district, because you'll never get approval but you can get your principal to give you approval for a pilot study. Get them on your side then show everybody how well it works. Start with the morning message of the day project, start very simply, don't get carried overboard, just start very, very simply and then move to collaborative projects with other classrooms.

Here's how we feel sometimes as we're changing the world: this is not easy stuff, it's not easy stuff at all. But I want to show you that time can make a huge difference; I want to show you something here. Here's where we are, this is Google Earth, right? [Showing image on projection screen] Washington, D.C., I couldn't find it, took me a while driving around the blocks to find it, but I finally got it. There we are. Now I want to take you to where I started my Peace Corps experience, in the Marshall Islands, in a very small atoll, as far away from any continent as you possibly can get.

Here it is: the atoll of Abon and I was on Tucka Abon, and here we're going into my school, and right here—this long rectangular building—that is my elementary school, and over here right where this little hand is, right there: forty years ago and our house is still there. This is a little shower house, a thatch hut. You can see my shoulders, a bucket shower, you just dump it, and all the kids would know when I was taking a shower after school. And here was our house, and here was the little coral place, beautiful place. And think about where we are today, that I can actually go and see the school where I started my teaching career forty years ago, teaching English as a second language to elementary students.

Our world is profoundly changing and it's frustrating, I understand your frustration, I feel it everyday. But it's changing. No matter what happens, it's going to be changing. And we owe it to our students around the world, in every single nation, to prepare them for their new literacies' futures.

The one thing I do know, and I'll close with this, is that as challenging as these changes appear, it's hard to keep up with them. We do know this, the people in this room here today–you folks—the leadership that you provide in your organizations, in your schools as a superintendent, as a vice principal at the middle school, whatever role you play, the leadership you provide is going to determine the future our students achieve. Thanks so very much. [Audience clapping] 

About the Author

Dr. Don Leu

Dr. Don Leu spoke in Coverdell World Wise Schools' conference—Global Issues in the Classroom—on October 15, 2009. He is a Neag Endowed Chair in Literacy and Technology at the University of Connecticut and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Micronesia from 1969 to 1973.