This summer at the CSSI program, we had an instructor who was greatly beloved by the students for “making the complicated things not complicated”, and that was Matthew Levine, who I grabbed on the phone this morning to chat about web literacy. Matthew is a web application engineer at Google with a teaching background: not only did he have several younger brothers growing up, but he tutored in high school and spent some time teaching 2nd grade.
On his teaching style
- Experience teaching 2nd graders taught him how to teach things that are intuitive to him (reading, numbers, etc.)
- Start with a good orienting framework
- Map with what they currently know to that model
- Explain where we’re going to dive into that model
- Example: have them build a social network. They already have a mental model of how that works.
- Along the way, “okay, now we want [some feature], so what do we need to do to do that?”
- Repetition of the same task types.
- Develop pattern recognition of that type of problem.
- “Okay I want a new page. That means I need to use django templates like we did for that other page.”
- How to search for answers (independently)
- How to look at previous examples and extract answers
On fundamental web literacy skills
- Lose the fear
- Learned behaviour: kids don’t have that fear, much more willing to play, make mistakes
- Fear needs to be unlearned in proper context.
- (Some fear, like privacy concerns, is good.)
- Generally finding information
- “How do I set up a twitter account?”
- Knowing that it’s okay to call for help
- Etiquette around praising question askers
- Giving opportunity to ask questions
- Stack Overflow lowered the barrier to entry, and feels vibrant (so your question will get answered, and you’re not the only one asking “stupid” questions)
- Mental model of how the web works
- In the old days: links + pages = easy
- Modern web is a harder mental model
- Part pedagogic challenge + part design challenge: help ppl understand what’s going on on a website
- “Blog” -> the post (blog entry) or the blog (site); lack of understanding of difference
- Contrast with “tweet” = good. Helps mental model. ”Status” = hard. Current status? Was current but no new current status?
On how much technical knowledge is necessary for web literacy
- “I’m probably going to fall into the camp of very little technical skills.”
- No HTML, CSS. Great if they do, but not necessary.
- When producing content, don’t need domain registry. Use the tools out there. Later, register a domain if you need it, when you need it.
- The difference between working around problems versus solving them.
- Once you realize problems are solveable, half the battle is won
- Lots of ppl don’t even consider this.
- 1) Info correctly absorbed
- 2) Global scale: literacy
- Things that are measurable:
- Map people -> online identity -> content
- But part of success is understanding privacy, invisibility, which makes that first mapping harder
- Flip side: measure what % of ppl do things in public vs. private.
- Measure # of content producers.
- Measure average number of personas.
- = reasonable estimate of people who are producing content
There’s definitely a lot to be said for needing people to be able to recognize problem types and apply the solution they’ve already learned for that type. I think that half of my CS courses were just trying to drill this fact into our heads.
And it’s interesting to chat with Matthew about these sort of meta-skills, and how the combination of them can be used to learn specific technical skills.
Plus, this may be the first draft of an actual numeric metric for web literacy.
Thoughts from the peanut gallery?