Expert: Facebook/Twitter Generation of Students in Academic Danger

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El Paso-area educators called to special session this weekend to deal with online learning crisis.

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The Facebook and Twitter generation of students in the El Paso area and elsewhere are in academic danger unless teachers learn how to help them manage the onslaught of often unreliable online information they face very day, a national expert will tell educators this weekend.

Pearson, the world's leading education publisher, is hosting Dr. Donald Leu of the University of Connecticut's New Literacies Research Lab for a special session to teach El Paso educators on Friday and Saturday, September 25-26, how to deal with the urgent problem of the explosion of the Internet and the consequences for how children learn.

"Our children are quite sophisticated in texting and downloading information and video and finding their pop culture heroes on the Internet, but they are woefully inadequate when it comes to processing real information they need," Dr. Leu said.

He will work first with educators on Friday, September 25, at 8:30 a.m. at the Vista Hills Country Club, 2210 Trawood in El Paso. Educators from all over the El Paso region will attend another session at 10 a.m. Saturday at Education Service Center 19, 6611 Boeing.

Dr. Leu said the inability of too many young people to recognize and process real, legitimate facts on the internet is shocking and that schools must deal with the issue now as the digital learns, the Facebook/Twitter/texting generation, moves through school.

Most students from the online generation "simply have very little in the way of critical evaluation skills," he said. "They may tell you they don't believe everything they read on the internet, but they do."

Students are devastatingly short on the ability to critically analyze the information they see on the internet, according to Leu's studies. As an example, he will tell educators in El Paso about one fake website that students thought was real.

Students in a research study were asked to learn about an effort to "Save the Endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus." There was even a website: http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/. The only problem? There is no such animal. It's a fake. Yet students took what they found on the internet about the "octopus" and used it as if it were fact.

Studies show students tend to "evaluate the reliability" of information they find on the internet based on the volume of information they find about the subject, not on whether the information is reasonable or even believable, Leu said.

Rather than use a traditional search engine such as Google or Yahoo, Leu's studies show about half of seventh graders simply type what they believe will be an appropriate website address into the address bar. For example, rather than googling "George Washington" to search a series of references about America's first president, students will simply type in "GeorgeWashington.com".

"That's what children do with their rock stars and their other cultural stars. They are accustomed to typing in the name and adding dot com. That often doesn't work for real academic research," Leu said.

Among students who do actually use search engines for research, many do not know how to use the results, he said. Typically, students will click on the first listing at the top of the search results page and take a quick look at that, then continue down the list without looking closely at the source of the website to determine if it is the best source of the information they need.

"Often they pass right by the (website) they should be looking at because it doesn't look like the website they have in their mind," Leu said. The problem isn't limited to children. Leu said studies show 75 percent of adults looking at health sites on the internet "never check the source. They google the health information they are needing and never check the source."

Texas, the El Paso area included, and all of America have a problem in the classroom confronting this issue, Leu said.

"The challenge is we're not preparing kids in the classroom for these new online reading skills. If kids are largely going to use the internet now and in the future, these skills for online comprehension" must be included in what teachers teach," Leu said. But such skills are largely absent from state standards and requirements for learning.

He will work with El Paso-area educators on strategies they can use to help deal with the learning crisis spawned by the crush of online material available. He'll show educators games and strategies to help children focus on the right sources of information and make critical decisions about where to find and use reliable information.

Leu's research and expertise contributed to the development of Pearson's Scott Foresman Reading Street Texas (grades K-5) and Prentice Hall Literature Texas (grades 6-12), the newest instructional materials for reading and English classrooms customized specifically to new state standards.

Failing to deal with the problem of how children use the internet for learning could have dire consequences for Texas education, Leu said. Teachers need to teach students important skills such as how to use internet search engines and how to decipher the information they receive, he added. That's one approach taken in Pearson's new reading and literature materials.

Pearson's Scott Foresman Reading Street Texas and Prentice Hall Literature Texas programs provide both print and digital instructional materials aligned to the new state college readiness standards and Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Schools have been using existing reading programs since 2000. Beginning in 2010, schools throughout the state will be introducing new reading and literature programs that will be used in Texas classrooms for the next six to eight years.

More information about Dr. Don Leu and Pearson's new reading and language arts instructional materials can be found at http://www.texasreadingstreet.com for elementary school grade levels and http://www.texasliterature.com for middle and high school grades.

About Pearson and Texas
Pearson (NYSE:PSO), the world's leading education publisher, has been providing education materials to Texas schools as far back as the 1800s. You may know us individually as Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall, Longman, SuccessMaker, NovaNet, PowerSchool, Educational Measurement, Educational Assessment, SuccessNet, Learning Teams, and so many more - names in the world of education that are recognized and respected across the State and the globe. In fact, most teachers in Texas have learned their profession by studying with Pearson's Merrill or Allyn & Bacon textbooks, and many have benefited from our professional development programs. We provide education and testing materials from birth through professional learning as well as the school systems that maintain student information data for thousands of schools. Our business offices are located in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, but our 2,000 Pearson people are living and working in every school district across the State. Whether in reading, language arts, science, math, social studies, music, English as a second language, foreign languages, or AP courses, hundreds of thousands of Texas's preK through college students are learning with our Pearson products every day. For more information, go to http://www.pearsonschool.com. In addition to Education, Pearson's other major businesses include The Financial Times Group and The Penguin Group, http://www.pearson.com.

Contact:
Kate Miller
212.641.6115
kate.miller (at) pearson (dot) com

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