Browser Blind or Browser Wise? How to diagnose and cure browser blindness in your school.

playschool windows
The late, great Brian Cant and his choice of browser, no... window .

In this post…

Through a nostalgic window…

A long time ago, on an late afternoon slot far away, a BBC TV show invited its pre-school age viewers to guess which window they would be looking through today… Would it be the round, the arched or the square window? A nation of under fives held their breath, the suspense was tangible, until the presenter finally revealed which misty framed shape of glass was the chosen one today…

Looking back I almost feel a bit swizzled that it didn’t in fact matter and they were not even real windows. Those cheeky Playschool presenters and their trickery! But what if it did matter which window we looked through? What if the square window was noting everything we looked at, building a list of everything we choose to see, and then selling our preferences to marketing companies. What if the round window was telling us that it was the safest, clearest window of them all and we would have a much fuller and better world vision if we opted to only ever look through its superior frames? Would the arched window claim independence and demand we should always be free of multinational glazing companies? What if the windows controlled what we could, or could not see?

Today, we are still choosing windows

Browsers have evolved. From the menu and toolbar encrusted early versions like Netscape Navigator and early versions of IE, to the minimalist, sleek contemporary crowd, they have strove to become more seamless, more uncluttered and more indistinct from the web pages they display. We want a widescreen, immersive internet experience so the browsers have got out of the view.

Browser Blindness
Not realising that you use an application called a browser to view web pages. Not being aware of what your browser is doing or can do in the background. Not knowing the differences between the many browsers. Not understanding how to be secure and get the best from the ones you use.

The result is ‘Browser Blindness’. As the browsers have faded to be indistinct, the lines have become blurred between window and view.  In nearly every school I visit, pupils are heard saying, “Go to Google and look.” when what they are doing is opening Chrome and clicking a link on the school VLE. They don’t realise that Chrome is a browser made by Google and the web page is nothing to do with Google at all. IE is just as baffling for them. Tell them that Internet Explorer is not the Internet and they will look at you with pity for being so confused. Check this for yourself. Listen in as your pupils browse and ask questions to check what they think they’re doing. I am sure you will find that in many of our kids minds the browser is the web, not the tool used to display it.

Does this matter?…

Why this matters

So, our ‘internet savvy’ kids just don’t seem to be clear on which applications they are using or what they are doing with them when they go online. That might come as a shock to you, but it shouldn’t. We can help them out with that. First we need to face up to the fact that the differences between browsers are more than just decorative and stylistic; making the choice between them is not just a casual personal preference, despite what you will read in a gazillion ‘which browser?’ blog posts. Wise your classes up too. Here are just a few discussion points that can help:

10 Browser brain busting discussions

  1. Browsers go in and out of style – which ones have been the favourites over time? Why did the older ones fall out of fashion?
  2. Who makes each browser? Who are these companies and where are they based? Are they all free to get and use?
  3. What happens when you create a browser account and sign in? What are the benefits, and what kind of information is the browser recording about you? Who has access to that data?
  4. What is the mission of the Mozilla foundation and how does their Firefox browser differ from the corporation controlled browsers?
  5. Do web pages appear the same on different browsers? Are there parts of web pages that don’t work on some browsers? What does this mean for people designing websites?
  6. What are the most important things a browser should do for you while you are surfing the web?
  7. What are plug-ins, add-ons, extensions and themes? Who makes them and how? What could be the risks of installing them?
  8. Browsers can remember information you type into online forms – your name, usernames, passwords, addresses, bank details. Is this a good thing with some bad points or a bad thing with some good points?
  9. How have browsers changed over time and what do you think they will develop into in the future?

…and the final window of opportunity

10. Ask yourselves, and the lead team, who chose the browser you are using at school?  Were they chosen for educational value? The answer in most schools will be “Er…”. Technicians may be blamed. If you are one of the many ‘Chrome/IE only – and IE doesn’t work’ schools then maybe it’s time you made some sound educational decisions. Have a range, let your pupils see them all. Give yourself that golden chance to ask…

“So kids, which browser will it be today, the square one, the round one…  the fox one…”

In memory of Brian Cant, children’s TV legend


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