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Student Focus: Comp Camp

May 23, 2012

From the Field

Remember how we raised all that money for a computer lab? Well, that lab is up and running and extremely popular with the kids!

While the older kids do use it for homework purposes, it was no surprise that usage quickly tended towards other, less wholesome projects (ahem, Facebook). If the kids are older than 14, technically they can use Facebook, but our concern quickly became that they should at least know how to use it safely. Part of the impetus for the computer lab in the first place, as well, was to teach the kids skills they could use in the workforce and in their personal lives. We do have an older student tutoring them in programs like Microsoft Word, but we want to go deeper. We want them to learn how to arm themselves with the power of the internet, but in a way that is safe.

So we set up a 3-day Computer Camp. We introduced them to Google and the power of a search engine. It sounds intuitive enough: type in what you want to know and click on the answers. But it turns out it’s not intuitive at all. We showed them techniques for looking for different types of information: navigating business websites like banks, searching for information about health issues, looking up historical or other academic type knowledge, or finding practical how-to sites like cooking recipes.

But it was about more than just finding information. It was about learning to evaluate the source of that information for credibility, reliability, and legitimacy. For example, the students learned that medical websites hosted by reputed medical professional institutions are a more trusted source than Yahoo! discussion forums. And they learned that the more important it was to find accurate information, the more they should find not only reputable sources, but also multiple sources to confirm what they learn.

We also talked about email and social media sites and the importance of protecting one’s privacy and security. We walked them through ways to increase their security, including how to set stronger passwords (i.e. not using “password” or their names or birth dates, etc.).

We also shared stories about the caution people must undertake with “meeting” others online: how easy it is to pretend to be someone you’re not, and how easily a person can be duped. We talked about safety issues and how to avoid trouble.

In this day and age, computers and the internet are almost unavoidable, and if these kids want to compete on a higher level and hopefully attain jobs that pay well enough for them to make a decent living, such skills are absolutely necessary. More than that, this access to a wealth of information is a potential source of personal power these kids can use to inform themselves about their rights and options. The more educated and aware they are, the less likely they are to be taken advantage of and the more confidently they may exercise their own voices. It can have an equalizing, democratic effect sorely missing in a broken education system.

But we, who have witnessed the growth and growing pains of the internet are aware of some of the potential pitfalls, and so we do the best we can to arm these teenagers with ways to make sure that they use this tool not only effectively, but safely too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jaimie T permalink
    May 23, 2012 2:30 pm

    Fascinating. People my age learned how to use the internet while the internet was learning how to use itself. I remember when they told us to put “proficient in internet research” on our resumes, lol.

    I was excited about this project and glad it’s turning out so well. The computer is not hard to master as long as you have access to it.

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