When I reflect on my own interpretations of information, media and the world around me, it is easy to forget how many years of learning and experience have gone into establishing the critical thinking skills I now have as an adult and professional educator. Growing up with the internet wasn’t always a walk in the park, as concepts such as digital privacy, security, and cyberbullying weren’t closely monitored. I relied on what I had learned from school, what my parents had taught me and what my friends perceived as right and wrong.
I very vividly remember sitting in my elementary school library at an Apple desktop computer (the orange, pink, green, purple and blue ones where you could see through the semi-transparent plastic- oh the nastalgia) and being taught how to enter keywords into a search engine and how it affected your searches. This simple, yet important lesson would expose me to the endless lists of results one can get when searching for information and how overwhelming it can be to decipher the grand amount of information. I remember thinking that this was such a basic concept, however little did I know that it would be just the beginning of my “Googling” journey that would set me up for the rest of my academic schooling.
Another memory that I have from this middle years time period is not understanding the ramifications of what “Copying & Pasting” meant. One of Shirsty’s articles that she shared “Ethical Issues with Using Technology in The Classroom“, discusses how students are confused that copying and pasting is plagiarism. My eleven-year-old self was absolutely guilty of this and it didn’t seem to be taken seriously by my institutions until my final years of high school and university years. I felt a rude awakening entering my first semester at the U of R and having no clue what is meant to create a citation in APA and MLA formatting. In part, this is largely due to the creation and utilization of online tools such as “Turnitin”, which allows educators to digitally screen for copyright and plagiarism within a student-created document. Now as a master’s student, I have an annual subscription to Grammarly which checks for plagiarism within your documents and also has the added benefit of grammar and spell checking my writing. This program alone has enhanced my academic writing and I learn more from it each and every time I use it.
Today, interpreting information and media has become a daily task of using critical thinking skills. One has to identify the source of the information, check the date of when the information was published, do background checks on authors and creators to see if they are a reliable source of information, compare facts and information, then make a decision on how to interpret it. It’s a lot! We are doing this at an alarmingly fast rate thanks to social media. It can be difficult to look through the lens of a critical thinker every time you open up a Facebook article or watch a Tiktok video. As a result, it is easy to fall victim to false information, and then share and pass on information that might not be entirely accurate, or even remotely true. We as both educators and parents have to teach children that just because they read or watch something online, doesn’t mean that they can always trust it. We have to teach these skills to them so that when they navigate the online world they can feel safe and make educated and responsible choices when consuming and creating content.
As a millennial, I was not only responsible for learning along the way when it came to my own personal journey with navigating the digital world and interpreting information and media, but I was also teaching the generations that came before me. My parents and grandparents relied on me to teach them how to use their first smartphones, laptops, Ipads and so many apps and programs. Yes, they had basic skills of typing, word processing and email, but that was the extent of it. I very often would get phone calls from my dad or my grandma because they needed help figuring something out on a device and I was always happy to help because it seemed to just come naturally to me.
Today as an educator, I often feel that because I grew up as technology was evolving, I just naturally learnt how to use these devices, navigate programs and decipher the information. But in reality, I was either taught formally or learned through trial and error. I have to remember that my students aren’t necessarily coming to school with a foundation of knowledge and skills that I expect for the classroom. I have to show them and guide them through the process of learning by experience. They will make mistakes along the way. That is inevitable. But, the more we can prepare them, the more successful they will be both at school and in their personal lives when making sense of this big complex world around them.