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?