We do not really even teach students to effectively use spellcheckers or grammar checkers. I'm constantly amazed that teachers never show struggling writers how to use Auto-Correct in Microsoft Word. We don't teach them about on-line dictionaries. We don't teach them how to evaluate information in Wikipedia. We don't teach them how to truly use Google or Google Maps. We don't teach them how to find or use the learning support tools available for Firefox. I could write posts about all of these things - and I will do that, but first I want to write about this:
We do not even teach them how to effectively use web browsers and we do not help them to know what web sites we consider important.
We don't do any of that. Instead we just complain.
Years ago... 1996 or 1997 perhaps, I set up a computer network in a high school. One of the first things that I built into the 'image' loaded to all the computers was a custom bookmark bar in Netscape. Right across the top of the browser we had links to local and major state universities, to libraries, to state and local governments, to job search sites. Also to early versions of search engines, citation machines, map programs. And to resources such as the CIA World Factbook, major newspapers, and more.
Yes, there were pages of those resources on the school library's website. Of course there were. But it was obvious from the start that the bookmarks were easier to use, more likely to be used, and thus, far more useful.
Today when I set up lab machines I line the bookmark toolbar with folders: Libraries, Job Search, Web Search, Universities, Newspapers, Maps, Research Tools, and Digital Texts. Each folder becomes a drop-down menu with a single click. Libraries brings links to local public, state, and university library homepages. Maps offers Google Maps and Mapquest, along with mass transit guides. And on and on. Users need never hunt around - the links are always right in front of them.
But usability is only one feature - teaching is another. First, we are demonstrating how to effectively individualize a browser to support what you need to do. Second, we are showing all these users what web sites we think are both important and valid.
So what's in your bookmark bar?
New York Public Library
Library of Congress
Fordham University History Sourcebook
Your nearest university library
The New York Times
The Times of London
Le Monde (and newspaper sites from around the world and in any language spoken or taught in your school)
University of Virginia E-book Library
I'm certain that you can build from this list.
- Ira Socol