Robert S. Houghton with David Strahan
Where chapter three highlighted some important educational similarities between deeper thinking with paper and computer technology, this chapter will highlight some key differences. Digital technology represents not just a superset of the capacity of a book but a superset of all forms of media in existence, a superset represented by the clickable digital palette image within this paragraph. This has raised a number of reading challenges.
A deeper understanding of the digital palette begins by internalizing the simple engineering difference between hinged floppy paper (e.g. magazine or book) and the more rigid surface of a computer display screen or set of screens. The former requires only the elegant simplicity of turning the page for more text and image, challenging its authors to follow some general logical sequence in its creation. The latter poses an infinite set possibilities for idea shape shifting, for morphing information into different structures and meanings. This challenges authors and readers to figure out the logic of the sequences needed to arrive at understanding. Further, given the creative use of new media (e.g., animation, video or music) and the exponential change curve built-in to the digital age and the Web, readers will increasingly need special instruction in the literacy specifics of a particular composition or its media.
For the twenty-first century, the term reading now takes on a significantly broader meaning than just the reading of text. Even fluent text readers may increasingly find that "digital readings" can be an adventure in finding or inventing a narrative sequence and in finding the options for the full presentation of all of the ideas. A digital system that can merge text with all other media means that the number of options for helping "readers" find a critical sub-text of the reason for reading, understanding, has become much broader and richer. This further suggests multiple lines of research for determining which digital approaches work better for which types of readers. Initial research has reported that this will vary significantly by age level with children (Nielsen, 2010^).
The Web's novel and sometimes revolutionary options for reading also create other new fundamental challenges. A reader staying focused and on-task on the ever branching Web has increasingly seemed akin to a dieter standing in a buffet line of infinite proportions. Some have speculated that the instant availability of Web information leads readers to jump among the multitude of branching options at every point, reprogramming the brain in ways that lessen the depth of our thinking and the quality of our reflection (Carr, 2008^; Carr, 2010^). It may be spreading humankind into ever wider and shallower "pancake people" (Foreman, 2005^). The New York Times has continued to add to its articles in the series "Your Brain on Computers" which has addressed the ongoing debate between the believers and the skeptics on the nature and depth of digital distraction (New York Times, 2010^).
Digital reading's challenges and opportunities are also deeper than the media of the digital palette. The means for using the digital palette for understanding and the computer manipulation by which understanding is reached vary, sometimes considerably, depending on whether one is using the Web from a standard cell phone, smart phone, touch tablet, netbook, laptop, desktop or any one of these types of computers that are connected to multiple large computer display screens. In turn, each of these genres of digital devices includes a number of operating systems from different companies which each require different knowledge sets in how to use them. If world culture was awash in computer availability for every citizen no matter their level of income, it could currently seem that we would still need to invent the comparative simplicity and universal operating system of the paper-based book just to teach text reading. However, in an exponentially developing culture such a critical perspective on the user interface would be based on outdated knowledge. Simpler and more elegant approaches are appearing . These operating systems and their software applications are continuing to evolve beyond single user keyboard/mouse driven assumptions into 3D, real world collaborative space. Presentations such as the John Underkoffler video presentation within this paragraph from the TED Conference (2010^) or Mistry's (2009^) demonstrated both the reality of this capacity and its near term potential.
As the Web and nature of the computer interface is still evolving, new developments may change to provide readers better ways to focus and maintain continuity. It may also simply be that Web reading requires the learning of a number of new skills for effective thinking that even experienced text readers have yet to acknowledge or master. That is, as readers recognize the problem, they also will find ways to evolve to maintain focus. Several related topics follow that are critical to enabling deeper digital learning.
Searching the Info Pyramid: Finding Relevant Resources
Search is response to a question or problem. Good readers keep up a steady stream of questions and challenges to the reading in which they are engaged. The Web and digital technology provide quick access to a fire hose of information. This simple concept comes with several challenges: finding relevant search systems; integrating effective meta-strategies for the search process; staying current with specific search techniques; learning skimming techniques; and learning effective scanning and skimming techniques of the search results.
A model for simplifying the framing of the world's information can be thought of as a three layered pyramid. (Click the pyramid on the left for more.) The top or brain layer represents Web applications for contacting people, such as Twittering (micro-blogging), Skype phone calling, or using the Net's databases of traditional telephone book white and yellow page data.
One of the Web's great breakthroughs is to provide a new range of contact systems that help people find and communicate directly and easily with others. The middle or bookshelf layer stands for those things stored on shelves but Web searchable, from paper items to tapes, CDs, DVDs, items that are increasingly duplicated as online resources.
The bottom or hard drive layer represents the Web pages, files and documents of the Web. A recommended strategy is to begin with a search tool or tools at the topic of the information pyramid, and proceed downward in order. The Story of the Information Pyramid (Houghton, 1996-2009^) provides further information on a set of ideas and prioritized layers of Web tools to better assist and teach more effective Web hunting and gathering.
As Coiro and Dobler (2007^) demonstrated, an important dimension of prior knowledge is understanding Web search procedures and options. These three layers of this conceptual pyramid and its related Web site point to thousands of general to specialized search systems pointing to petabytes (the number after trillion) of information. (Click the video of this paragraph.) Considering just the data at the bottom layer of the info pyramid, a Google blog posting reported in July of 2008 that the company had a still incomplete index of the Net that had recently exceeded over one trillion Web pages. The numerous and constantly changing details of searching go far beyond the scope of this document. The habit to teach young explorers and older alike is to periodically check the search engines' help pages to find the latest search feature updates on a particular search engine's Web site (e.g., Google search help; Bing search help).
Though details within books can rapidly become outdated, relevant titles for adults include: Searching and Researching (Hartman & Ackerman, 2004^) and Extreme Searcher's Internet Handbook (Hock & Notess, 2007^). Some selected works designed to help teach younger searchers include: Teaching information & technology skills (Eisenberg, & Berkowitz, 2000^); Quick and Easy Internet Activities for the One-Computer Classroom (Evans, 2002^); Power research tools: Learning activities & posters (Valenza, 2003^); Web Searching Strategies: An Introductory Curriculum for Students and Teachers (Miller, 2003^); Super searchers go to school (Valenza & Basch, 2005^); and Making the writing and research connection with the I-search process (Tallman & Joyce, 2006^).
Though sometimes a new Web reading event starts with the URL or Internet address of a Web site or Web page, often reading begins or is extended with a search of a database of web page information, a database often referred to as a search engine. The reader is driven to this search because of an area of interest or question that has just emerged from a prior reading or experience. The reader must then read their own mind as they are dependent on their background knowledge for retrieving the keywords or search terms that will lead to further related readings. Using words and phrases related to the topic, a prioritized list of web pages and sites will be displayed but typos and misspelling can ruin the attempt to get useful results. The better search engines support less fluent readers by responding with a correction to a misspelled word and providing an option link for searching by the correct word or phrase.
As further aid to less fluent searchers and to speed up the more fluent, Both Google and Bing have recently implemented an idea called "search suggestions". As characters are typed, suggestions appear. Further typing extends and modifies a selectable list of search terms as additional letters are typed. The search suggestions are drawn from a pool of similar searches done by others across the Net. The feature can be turned off. Before teachers do searches with search suggestions active in front of a group of students, educators should test some likely search strategies to see what kind of suggestions appear. The results can produce hilarious, offensive and useful phrases with each letter added to the search string. The YouTube video below shows the constantly changing search suggestions of the phrase "my dog has fleas" as it is entered. It is without audio. As there is no research to date to answer these questions, teachers will need to do some exploration and action research on their own to decide these questions for themselves. Do the potential distractions outweigh its usefulness? How does usefulness vary with age and grade level? Do the results that appear at home differ much from the results that appear when within the school's Internet filtering system? How should parents be informed of the nature of this option and the capacity to switch it on and off?
Press the pause and play symbol frequently to have time to scan the constantly changing list of search options.
As a follow-up to this demonstration, click the Google search link in the upper right frame and try this on your own with searches typical of your own students.
Once the enter key is pressed and a search is actually completed, the returned search list of possible web pages then poses a further reading challenge. Many readers need more skills to effectively scan the list of choices for the better web pages (Sutherland-Smith, 2002^), and more skills in quickly skimming a selected web page to determine if it is actually relevant and reliable (Kuiper et al., 2005^; Kuiper et al., 2008^; Shenton & Dixon, 2003^). Persistent modeling by classroom teachers along with guided and independent practice will be needed to overcome the shortcomings common to many students seeking information on the Web.
Coiro and Dobler (2007^) and others have emphasized the additional importance of inferential reasoning strategies in comprehending what we read in a digital environment. Every reading situation requires us to use structural cues and context clues to make sense of the information on the page. Reading on the Internet requires us to create our own personal pathways through multiple texts. The “forward inferential reasoning” demonstrated by the proficient sixth graders in Coiro and Dobler’s study was characterized by their ability to orchestrate a much wider array of cues and clues. In many respects, reading and working from the listing of Internet search results is a fast paced version of the old children’s game “hot and cold.” By interpreting facets of data, the reader is engaged in a constant quest to get closer and closer to information that is increasingly “warmer” in its usefulness and move quickly away from information that appears to grow colder.
Students also benefit from longer term projects that encourage a greater depth of knowledge about a topic. The more you know, the more you can learn. That is, finding effective search terms for a topic require knowing enough about a topic to find appropriate keywords to go further. This background knowledge takes time to build, implying a strategic need for some projects that build over months, not days.
Initiating or extending an online reading event is far more complex than just the idea of a generalized search engine. Google.com may be the most popular and common search engine in use for web page information but Microsoft's Bing search engine (which also handles the searches done at Yahoo.com) provides direct and similar search engine competition with overlapping but never identical results. Further, search engines exist with great variety in their approaches. Web page designs that encourage greater use of the depth and breadth of search system possibilities are needed. Some search tools are highly specialized, for example, searching only blog sites, chat and twitter correspondence, telephone numbers, books, company products, or different kinds of media. The variety and depth of video at YouTube.com is now so extensive that it has become a major destination for information searches. "In November 2008, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore" (Helft, 2009^). Video (and other media) can teach a range of topics (such as learning to swim) faster and easier than text. Further, given the population that is more reading challenged, school children still building their literacy and adults with reading difficulty, video also provides an important alternative to text based news, entertainment and information. These challenged groups though will still need keywords, but they can learn to listen for particular words in video and find out how to spell them to initiate searches in other media.
As learners reach a critical mass of reading skills, it is possible that the improved academic levels of heavier Internet readers is a result of the deeper breadth of content comprehension that comes from creating and scanning search lists of greater quantity and diversity than prior forms of reading in paper. For struggling readers, text-based Web page searches with inadequate skills and resources for finding the spelling and meaning of keyword search terms words could lead to a further loss of motivation and comprehension.
One early and basic choice in information access is how to physically move through the information, options which include voice commands (increasingly common on cell phones but seldom explored even when available on personal computers), mouse movement, keyboard control and more recently, multi-finger gestures. These considerations are especially important to those with special needs.
As Coiro and Dobler (2007^) found in their analysis of ways sixth graders read Internet text, another critical aspect of prior knowledge is understanding Web page structures. Perhaps the simplest element of a Web page is its border or boundary. The distraction of page borders can unfortunately be a powerful element for undercutting comprehension. How space around text is used has a major impact on comprehension (Vanderschantz, 2008^). There is never an option open for changing borders on paper so readers are in the habit of accepting the display of a page on the Web the way it is given. Consequently, many web page readers routinely lose space to extra feature displays at the bottom, side and top of the page by leaving the Web browser defaults in place. Others who have discovered these features activate the extra display areas without informed knowledge of their potential impact. Not only is this space lost for viewing content, but more significantly, these spaces constantly remind the reader of options that are too often significant distractions, whose links lead the reader away from the current page.
Control of these spaces is managed from the View command at the top of the menu bar in most browsers. The left side or sidebar of some browsers can be reserved for either the Bookmarks, the current bookmark list, or the History, the list of web places that have been visited. The sidebar concept is in Internet Explorer 6 & 7, Firefox, Netscape 7 and SeaMonkey. The sidebar was removed from Internet Explorer 8 and never available in Safari, as different designs were used to display bookmark and history lists. The bottom area is generally referred to as the Status Bar, that might report whether a web page had been completely received. The top of web page generally displays the Bookmark Bar of the most commonly used web pages along with any special shortcut symbols the application wants to be seen. Further, and most often used, the Navigation Bar appears at the very top of the page, which contains the all important web address.
Each of these view options introduces a problem in "border loss", shrinking the space for the content that draws the reader to the page in the first place. More importantly is where this border loss occurs, in areas in which your brain needs to be focusing on recalling the last set of information read and integrating it with the next row or words being scanned. That is, all of these areas are locations to which are eye gravitates easily and/or frequently, at least in western culture as it scans a page and its lines of information. The Navigation Bar and the Status Bar, the very top and the very bottom, can also display distracting animated text.
The left edge of a reading area on a computer screen is troublesome for two reasons. One is the left sidebar option in many popular browsers. When switched on, the left-right scan of eyes in many cultures and reading systems constantly crosses into this sidebar area when it is present, a feature fortunately absent from all versions of the Safari browser. Second, depending on how the page window is sized, the critical area to the left of a Web page's window (or any application window) can also be showing distracting images and text from other windows just outside the narrow border space of the text. The distracting views beyond the edge of a screen window are a much more common problem than browser sidebar display. A simple and quick fix is to drag or size the page so that its left edge is flush with the edge of the screen. This will also feel more restful to the eye.
The reason for this left edge problem is that the left edge is a kind of mental anchor for the eye as it prepares to find the next row and the next set of words. If unrelated text or imagery is too close to the left edge, a series of problems occur. First, the mind encounters distraction that requires a decision as to whether to change focus and topic or stay on topic. Further, additional data is added to short term memory that conflicts with the train of thought from a passage being read. Third, if the decision is to stay on topic, another effort must be made to find the beginning of the new row. If a reader is a struggling reader, the problems magnify themselves. All this eye-scan behavior happens in fractions of a second but if it happens over and over every time a line of text is finished, it has the potential to reduce comprehension, physically tire the eyes and generally slow the reading process.
This is a useful point to pause for a bit of personal action research with this web page. As an experiment when starting to read a web page or with this page being read, do basic page border patrol. That is, learn to use a Web Browser's View commands to turn off all the checkmarks for these border displays. Different browsers handle this in different ways. Make the left edge of the window flush with the edge of the screen if sidebar items like search history are appearing there. After a bout of reading, experiment with just one of the three areas visible, then two, then move the page away from the left edge, then display everything. Record some reflective notes over time as to whether clearing the borders focuses reading and yields better comprehension. Use your own self-study to determine how much border loss can be suffered before options and distractions take too much attention from the focus on the content.
By the 1980's the knowledge explosion had led to many working solutions to connecting and sharing digital information. The one that caught fire was Tim Berners-Lee's hypertext system for using the link to connect information over the existing Internet, a system that he named the World Wide Web and made freely available for download in 1991. The explosive growth of the Web is indicative of the significance of the problem. An important problem had been solved and the solution's implementation continues to evolve and expand.
The hyperlink, e.g.., "the link", is primarily known by the underlined colored text which when selected with a click displays a different page on the computer screen. In fact, any media (e.g., audio, video, still images, etc.) can have a link embedded within it that can cause new data to appear with a click or automatically in time-based media when a particular point in time is reached. Further, with current Web browsers, the Web composers' designated links face constant competition. That is, any word or reader selected phrase on the page can with two clicks and in a fraction of a second instigate a Web search based on the selected term or phrase. Further, with the Safari browser this includes the option to also search the local hard drive or a dictionary. This simple seemingly innocent linking element of archived information of what is known as the Web continues to transform the reading experience and consequently the thinking experience.
A now highly interconnected Web raises new questions and problems. What does it mean to "follow a train of thought"? Which train of thought, the composer's or the reader's? For Web users, it is now extremely easy, in fact, seamless, to instantly branch from following a particular composer's train of thought to following a reader's different train of thought that emerged from the original reading. The reader can now become the composer of instant anthologies based on whims of the moment, a luxury that has even Web experienced adults lamenting their inability to stay on an original line of thought and focus deeply.
This raises more specialized questions for educators. By what decision mechanisms, priorities and teacher guidance will these incremental decisions about links be made? As schools increasingly enter to the era of 1 to 1 computing with ever increasing numbers of children and adolescents holding the Web in their hands in school settings, a new educational decision point is being reached. Can educators build the curriculum that enables children as they mature to make effective choices? Will educators who cannot reach that goal lobby for Web filtering to be extended so that teachers have the technical means to prevent, that is force a learner in a school setting to not be able to branch until a particular assigned work is finished or period of time is up?
Web browsers continue to expand the relationship between the text of any page and a search of related information. This changes the accent of the meta-analysis running in the background as the reading event is underway. A reader in a paper-based setting asks a basic meta-question. "Should I reread this for better understanding?" The increasing information intimacy of the Web encourages the reader to ask and act on two different questions. "Could I understand this better if I follow a text link to a different web page or search for a related page?" This involves a second related question. "Should I jump back?" There are no simple answers and consequently this adds to the complexity of reading on the Web. This in turn requires much more Web reading practice in making the best decision for one's current level of vocabulary and reading sophistication. An implication for Web reader training is that all three questions need to be present at the meta-level in ones thinking.
The reader therefore faces certain challenges in working with the information display capabilities of the web. When should the reader interrupt the flow of the narrative on one web page to jump to another narrative on another web page? There are no firm rules in answering this question. As a general habit when reading web text, we encourage reading to the end of the web page, that is until the page can be scrolled no further. Next, start from the top and skim back through the material to find links to other information that may be of interest.
But which cross-references are essential and which are optional? Color coding of sections could imply priorities. Authors could also clearly spell out in imperative language (e.g., click, read or study, do, skim, or optional) which links must be followed in what way to meet the author's intent, clarifying which are essential and which links are optional. The general style on the Web is to leave it up to the reader without providing any sense of the priorities of certain links.
How does one know what is a link and what is not? Historically, the concept of linking began in paper technology with text citations, footnotes and bibliographies. We train readers that use cellulose technology to know the meaning of footnote and other citation marks and to know that they must make a physical or online trip to the library to read what the footnote or bibliography referenced. To what extent do we need to formally train readers to find the cross-reference links in web mediated environments?
Cross-references on the web are often immediately available, but some education on how to use them is certainly beneficial. When is something a link in an online textbook? All the text links began as underlined bright blue and underlined purple links. The bright blue meant that the reader has not taken the link and the purple meant that the computer recognized that this page had been visited recently at that particular computer. Not all web page authors use this system of color and underline for identifying links. It is also possible for the reader to change this color convention using defaults within their own web browser (e.g., Netscape or Internet Explorer). When links direct you to the web sites of others, different rules may apply for how text links look, creating inconsistencies that further hinder challenged readers. Increasingly readers must be using their screen pointer (cursor) to slide over colored text to see if the screen pointers turns into a hand or some other pointing symbol to indicate that this is a cross-reference (hypertext link) to other information.
Prior chapters have integrated a wide variety of media that including examples of still images, audio/video clips, 2D, 3D animation and sensor information and with reader interaction options that encouraged blog page posting of ideas. Any of these media could have links within it to any of the other media. One more media example will be included, the insertion of a classic book format.
This example embedded below is a preview of the 2004 Caldecott Award winner, The Man who Walked Between the Towers. As a demonstration of how this technique works, a very small window has been created below for demonstration purposes which shows a portion of the book's page, a size which requires too much scrolling. Note the page controller at the top right of the book.
For a more full sized viewing, click these books titles to see two examples in the right window displayed at the actual size of the full book page, one an excerpt from a book for children, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and one a full length text for adult readers, The Heart of the Internet. The Heart of the Internet, a 200 page plus book, addresses longer term issues in the use of the Internet including challenges to privacy and to intellectual and political freedom. For educators seeking directions on how to use code to embed books in web pages, see Google's Embedded Viewer API: Developer's Guide. Google Books (books.google.com/) provides a wide variety of titles with varying degrees of access from complete to highly restricted but still useful for skimming a wide variety of titles for potential usefulness.
Properly integrated, media can provide a direct immediate deeper engagement with a reading. At the same time media integration creates a challenge for the reader in how much time is needed to figure out how to follow the navigation system of a particular media and click/explore a medium for potentially invisible links to further related material. This suggests that teachers provide a wide range of experiences across the media options to familiarize their students with the many options.
Web Browser Page Turning: Replace, Tabbed or New Window
It can be wonderful to simply turn the paper page without making a decision from a range of choices about how to display the next set of information. The Web choices, though, do provide a new range of reading power. The above Caldecott Award winning book uses its own built-in reader navigation system, a direct simulation of turning the page in a paper book. Web browsers have a different set of options. Web browsers work with the right edge scroll bar to move forward or backward in a set of information on a Web page. In the graphic on the right, the blue rectangles pointing at the empty space above and below the scroll slider mean that clicking above or below the slider moves the page display one screen page in that direction. If the slider in the green rectangle or the bottom arrows in the green rectangle are used, the reader advances one line of text at a time, the former less fatiguing to the eyes and the latter faster but requiring more active skimming. In short, a Web page is a Web document or file, not a single paper page, that must be actively navigated.
Any document is related to or descended from other compositions. Said another way, any reading is really part of a cloud of related readings. To make such "clouds" more accessible, the Web designers invented the link. The practice of linking both enhances the reading process and potentially distracts the reader. To browse the Web is to click on a link to read the next Web file or a new page or display of information. The classic or standard event upon clicking a link is to replace the existing web page with a new page of information. But there are other better options which allow the reader to keep the current page in computer memory immediately available while opening a new or adjacent window. By right-clicking on a link, two new choices (see image on left) appear in a menu, New Window or New Tab. Each possibility has advantages and disadvantages. One more option in this menu, "This Frame", provides a further submenu for web page management when multiple web pages are combined into the same window. Through much practice in trying such commands as opportunity allows, readers will work out better decisions for managing the information flow.
As the click of each link replaces a Web page with the next page of data, this creates a long history of web pages making it harder to return to a place of interest, as the prior pages are no longer visible nor in computer memory. Having a new tab appear in the same window or frame instead of a new window reduces screen clutter. This also makes it easier to return to prior information. Dragging on the tabs also allows the reader to change the sequence of the tabs. However, if many tabs have been created, the current tab open will provide the window name or bookmark title, when looking at a list of minimized windows.
Web pages commonly include many links to related references. Such links off a web page can be distracting to staying on the track of a particular thought. Though perhaps better to ignore links until a second read through the page, a help to staying on track is the right-clicking links to activate the "Open in New Tab" feature. That is, as each tabbed page is added to the right of the existing web page in the tab bar, it does not remove or replace the page being read. After the reading of the current page has finished, the tabbed collection of pages can be explored as needed. This can reduce distraction while Web reading.
Engaging students in the processes of literacy
The resources of the Internet provide students and teachers a wealth of opportunities to strengthen essential reading strategies. Learning more about those resources enables us to expand our prior knowledge, extend our inferential reasoning strategies and improve our self-regulated reading processes. At the same time, the Web encourages us to interact with content in ways that are deep and immediate. These Web interactions can include communication with the author, with other readers and the direct editing of the content itself. This encourages the posing of questions, an important aspect of the reading process. Greater engagement builds greater motivation for further reading.
One free communication option is to find the author's email address or live Web contact system of choice and share the page or paragraph where the information seems inadequate for understanding or carrying out an activity. This enables a discussion that can both benefit the author and determine whether the information was inaccurate or incomplete enough to require change or whether more carefully reading through the information and procedures will deal with the question or problem. For popular authors, the amount of communication makes it unlikely that they will have time for the dialog, but for the vast majority of web pages, that is not the case.
Many authors now include an option to leave comments. Sometimes this is a comment box or link at the bottom of a web page. These comments are sometimes publicly listed while others are private for the web page author. Sometimes the comment link is to a blog posting which automatically comes with comment options. Other web sites include forum features which create lists of email like comments which are sometimes kept in topic categories. Generally, all of such forum communication can be further searched for additional and related comments. Sometimes survey type forms accompany a reading. Authors can also create links to questions and question threads at the many Question and Answer sites, questions to which readers can be invited to respond. There are several varieties of comment systems each of which will require additional or alternative reading strategies. Of special value to those making comments, the Safari 4.0 browser is the first to offer spell and grammar checking for any in-page text entry such as comments, a sign that other browsers may be soon to follow.
There is perhaps no more direct way to interact with a composition than for the reader to change the content of the work itself. One method for direct editing of the work is provided through a type of Internet based application called wiki software. Wiki is a Hawaiian term meaning quick, as in quick for creating and updating information. Wiki software allows readers to have immediate direct editing of the text itself. This of course presumes that the reader has the sophistication to determine what is wrong with a passage, and the ability to rewrite it to better express an idea, as well as improve relevance, currency and accuracy. Many different kinds of wiki systems are available to allow private and public collaborative groups to create and edit information on any topic or issue. The most expansive application of this concept is the globally developed multi-lingual encyclopedia known as Wikipedia which contains millions of articles. All of these options have the added benefit of serving to improve the material and thought that is available to all.
There are multiple options for how information can be organized, presented and summarized. Among these are framesets, pop-out and popover features, and out loud reading. Whenever frame page design is used, the overall display area is actually made of two or more separate web pages. Frame pages are a design tool that allows different web pages to appear in the same browser window. This is a powerful and useful design with some special power user features that should be more widely known. The most important is that the web page in any single frame cell of the web display can be popped out under user control and become a separate web page. Try it on the frame pages in chapter one. On a Mac computer, click and hold down the mouse button in the left column of links until the list of commands appears in a second or two. Select the command that open the frame in a new page. The web page embedded in that frame opens as a separate web page. On a Windows computer, right click on a link within the left frame column or the right frame and a list of commands appears. Select the command that opens the frame in a new page. Either way, the web page embedded in that frame opens as a separate web page. The web page will not have a functioning back arrow, a further reminder that the page is to be closed when finished to show the originating page behind it. This "pop-out" procedure also makes it not only possible to accurately specify the printing of any particular web page where necessary or useful, but to see and/or bookmark the precise web page address of that page. Further, the frame boundaries are often re-sizable. Move the screen cursor along the edge of a frame, and it turns into a double arrow; you can click and drag that edge to make more space appear on one or the other side of two frames.
At other times a new window will form or pop open over the top of this assignment window automatically when a link is clicked. That is, as web page designer, instead of waiting for the reader to decide that for some uses a page in a frame cell will display better as a large independent page, the composer can force a page to not stay in the frame when a link is clicked and instead have it appear in a new page. If you finish studying and close the new window that popped open, the window that it came from will still be there to remind you of any next steps.
Voice and Computer Speech
Out loud reading means that the computer can translate the words into speech and read a Web page out loud. This feature is sometime built in to the Web browser, such as Safari and Firefox for Macintosh computers. In the browser, highlight the text to be spoken, then click Safari in the menu bar and select Services. From services, select Speech and Start Speaking Text. The speaking of text can might be a feature of the operating system, but if not, special application be downloaded or purchased to handle it.
A bookmark, a piece of paper sticking out between the pages of a book is a wonderfully simple device for remembering favorite reading locations. Too many school students lack this luxury of owning even a small shelf of books as their own personal library into which they can put bookmarks to favorite reading passages. Web browsers have taken this idea of bookmarks a little further and in a different direction, though each Web browser handles bookmarking and their organization in different ways. The Web and its digital bookmarking system creates an opportunity for those without physical bookshelves of books to carry the equivalent of an enormous bookshelf in their pocket. This extended to sharing such personal bookshelves and their organization online through concept tagging and social bookmarking sites, a category of emergent thinking coined in 2004 as folksonomies (Mathes, 2004^; Vander Wal, 2007^).
Tomaiuolo's book on Building a World Class Personal Library (2004^) provides some idea of the richness of this capacity. Of course opening this bookshelf will mean having access to a computer but Internet access can be optional depending on how the digital library is built. The bookmarks can point to references that stay on the Internet. The bookmarks can also be set to point to files of text and media that have been downloaded and saved to a Flash drive, or some combination of both can be used. For children on the wrong side of the social and digital divide, this concept of having convenient and rich access to information can have an enormous impact on self-concept and self-esteem.
The emerging ebook market and the download of digital books to handheld ereaders, touch tablets and more have created an additional layer of bookmark thinking. That is, it getting ever easier to download books to be read on a handheld device or to use ereader software to read magazines and books online. The reading software for such books and magazines comes with it own features, which includes bookmarks within a particular ebook, note-taking and other features. All of these features add to the learning curve for becoming a more effective reader.
Finally, in a culture with a high and still exponentially growing pace of change, the capacity to question becomes more important then the knowledge of answers. This does not make answers unimportant. Answers change and only new questions or constant questioning will find the updates. If questions are the seeds of answers, then questioning drives the energy flow of the entire digital palette on the right. The sharing problems process on the outside ring of the palette on the right represents both the key problem discovery and the sharing phase of thinking. This need has enabled the creation of what might be called a new genre of literature to challenge readers, questioning systems. The relatively newness of these designs suggest an opportunity for research into their use for questioning to determine how schools are progressing with their integration into instructional activity.
Systems used for questioning activity are primarily driven by the media of text. The variety of systems that promote human questioning include question and answer only (Q & A), team workflow, social networking such as Facebook, blogging including Twitter, and discussion groups or forums, news sites with comment fields, email and search engines. The multiple ways in which their information must be read and followed are very different from every other form of information students encounter in paper-based schools. These options can be broken into three broad categories:
In contrast, books and articles can be seen as a glacially slow form of question and response in which actual publication of an article or book can be a response to a question that was asked years in the past. All have a place. It is important for 21st century school curriculum to provide some guidance on when to use and read which and how to qualify the results.
The greatest new opportunity among these options for educators could be Q & A systems. There are dozens of Q & A sites, focused databases of questions asked and answered by people which range from totally public and free to private and fee based. Discussing just one of these Q&A systems in one of its forms provides some indication of the degree of interest in and hunger for a human response to questions and how widely such systems are used and read. Click the Yahoo Answers screenshot image for a video of a child teaching the use of Yahoo Answers. The largest and most active of the dozens of Q & A systems is Yahoo Answers which added an element of point competition to answers to help with the problem of the trustworthiness of those answering. In announcing that Yahoo Answers reached the milestone of a billion answers (Yahoo, 2010, May 3^), the company reported that their service is "available in 9 languages across 21 countries...(with) 823,966 questions and answers per day…that works out to 34,331 per hour or 572 per minute". In December of 2009 they reported 200 million users with 350,000 new visitors per day (McGee, 2010^). Because of the open-ended nature of their sharing, such Q & A Web sites are routinely blocked by school firewalls, making it all but impossible for schools and teachers to directly teach ways to use and deal with the strengths and weaknesses of such systems.
It would of course be possible for school systems to create their own internal systems behind school district firewalls, as is done by many businesses. Free, open source Q&A systems that school districts could install and run on district servers behind their firewalls. They include: OSQA; Questions2answers; QHub; and Shapado. Most of this continuum of online question and answer systems has "white label" products on which schools can put their own brand and control.
Encouraging a questioning state of mind while reading and cogitating has been a long standing element of many reading strategies and of strategies in every content area. Finding responsible ways to open the door to offline and online questioning system activity in classrooms can only enhance the potential of 21st century schools.
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