Becoming info-savvy : Information and critical literacy in the web world

This is the first of three posts which focus on information and critical literacy. This first post outlines the importance of developing information and critical literacy. The second post will give specific strategies and tools to use when evaluating information found online, while the third post focuses on verification of social media.

The democratization of content creation is a wonderful thing; even as I type, I am enjoying the ability to publish to a worldwide audience. Thanks to the thousands of content creation and distribution platforms including WordPress, Scribd, Weebly, Storify, and of course YouTube just to name a few, millions of voices which might have never been heard have a channel to communicate their message. Content is being created at a mindblowing rate:
Click the image to open the interactive version (via http://pennystocks.la/).
Whereas previously content had to pass through extensive editorial processes prior to work being published, there is no such on the internet. Therefore we see just as much accurate as inaccurate information being posted online;

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Disturbingly, it’s not just the accuracy of assignments that are at risk by this spread of misinformation; in the past 90 days, according to this article by the Washington Post, 84 people have self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon; and almost all of them include information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong.

We need to develop skills in what Howard Rheingold calls ‘Crap’ Detection – knowledge of how to find and verify accurate, useful information – or basic information literacy for the internet age. This type of literacy is something which must be taught to students, and which must be brought to the attention of anyone who uses the internet as an information source – which, it seems, in Australia at least, is most people.

So what are these information literacy skills, and how do we learn them?
This series of posts attempts to outline some of the strategies, tips and tricks which can be applied to ensure the accuracy of information sourced from the internet; of course, much of it comes along with the fact that a little common sense goes a long way…

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Ludie Cochrane

The multimodal nature of the internet allows users to create any version of truth. You might have seen the Dove Evolution video, where an attractive young woman is ‘transformed’ into a supermodel using photoshop; more recently, a human interest reporter Esther Honig wanted to see just how much culture influences beauty, and so she had the idea to ask 40 photo editors in 25 different countries to photoshop her picture.
“Make me look beautiful,” was the brief. The results show the amazing way the internet connects us, and the way technology can manipulate what we believe to be true.

For students, the internet is the dominant medium and place they go to for information. In a world of information overload, it is vital for students to not only find information but also determine its validity and appropriateness.

For teachers in particular, it is necessary to not only have these skills, but also to be able to educate students to become informed, literate, self directed learners, who are able to navigate effectively the information accessible on the internet. Mandy Lupton, in her research on inquiry and the Australian Curriculum, has found that inquiry skills and information literacy are embedded in the Australian Curriculum in the subject areas Science, History, Geography, Economics and Business, Civics and Citizenship, Digital Technologies and in the general capabilities Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) . A huge part of being an effective learner and being able to research critically is being able to determine what is quality information, and where to source it from; after all,

See more on Know Your Meme

Click here to access the next post which explores Alan November’s ‘REAL’ strategy, and provides tools and strategies to apply in order to verify information discovered online. The third and final post, on critical literacy and social media is available here.

Tricks to find the truth: Information Literacy for Social Media

This is the third and final in the blog series on developing information and critical literacy skills for identifying quality information online. After exploring why these skills are important, in the first blog post, and then investigating the grammar of websites in the second post, this final post provides some tools to consider when verifying information which has been published via social media such as Twitter and YouTube.

A Pew Research paper on how teens research in the digital world  found that 52% of students access YouTube or other social media sites when searching for information for their assignments. Although not perhaps considered a traditional source of information, sites such as Twitter and YouTube are increasingly being accessed as a ‘way in’ to complex topics. These sources too require specific skills to identify reliable, accurate and quality information, perhaps even more so that websites. This is because the nature of social media is that it is designed often for quickly uploading and sharing information; there is very little skill level required to post to social media, vs the skills needed for web publishing; therefore an even larger group is publishing content which may or may not be correct. The personal nature of many posts also means that it is very open to bias, and the social nature means that scams, jokes and misleading posts are much more likely.


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by mkhmarketing

A fantastic and interesting way to learn more about how to verify information discovered via social media is to explore the work of the modern journalist. Often, information about breaking events is caught or reported by citizens ‘on the ground’, and is shared via social media much more quickly than traditional news services can. Therefore, for journalists reporting on news as it happens, often extensive investigation must take place to ensure the photo, video or blog post is verifiable, and not simply for notoriety or hoax value.2014-10-03_1558

The Verification Handbook is a really interesting read (and free to download) which shares a range of tools and strategies for how journalists verify information, using real case studies.
Of course, students who are researching won’t necessarily go to the lengths that journalists go to to identify the veracity of information they find online, but it is good be aware of strategies which are easy to apply if they aren’t sure of the accuracy of information.

Three ways identified in the handbook to verify the accuracy of information on social media include:

Provenance – is this the original piece of content?
Source – Who uploaded the content?
Date – when was the content created?

Finding this information requires the use of a combination of tools.

2014-09-19_1350One of the most useful tools for establishing the provenance of images is the Tin Eye reverse image search tool. Tin Eye begins with the image, and searches back,  to attempt to establish where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version. This is particularly useful if you have the feeling that an image has been doctored. You can install the Tin Eye plug in for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Chrome, or you can just go to the Tin Eye website and paste the image link or drag and drop the image itself. Click on this link to see some of the more interesting versions of images that Tin Eye has discovered.

When looking at the source to verify who uploaded the content, there are several things to take note of. Look at the account of the person posting the information; what is the quality and content of their previous posts? Look for slight inconsistencies in their name (e.g. Julian Gillard), when did they create the account? You can also be guided by the blue tick on Twitter accounts which indicate that they have been verified, but this, like anything else, may be faked. More information about verified Twitter accounts is here.

Who is the REAL Julia Gillard?

Who is the REAL Julia Gillard?

Just doing a search for a well known person on Twitter can reveal the range of accounts purportedly belonging to the same person. This is a great activity to demonstrate how closely users need to examine accounts, and how easily one may be fooled into thinking posts are from someone from whom they are not.

To verify the date that information was published, journalists have to go to great extremes to verify the accuracy of information they receive via social media; sometimes searching the weather at the time an photo was taken to identify a match, or using Google Maps to match background scenery to confirm the event took place where it was said to.

While students aren’t necessarily dealing with breaking information, they do need to apply a little bit of critical awareness to information that they gather from social media. Simply double checking information against a number of different sources is one of the best ways to identify the reliability of information; as well as having a little bit of general knowledge and common sense.

For those who wish to dig a little deeper, the Verification Handbook website has published a list of tools that are useful for verifying identity, places and images.

These three posts (click for post one or two  if you missed them) have attempted to provide a summary to this huge area. I have collated a list of resources and tools on my Pinterest board for further reading and information. I’d love to hear of any other tips, tools or strategies you have found useful when evaluating online sources of information.

Click the image to access my Pinterest board with resources to support teachers in this area.

Click the image to access my Pinterest board with resources to support teachers in this area.

Global Learning – Sharing, Connecting and Discovering together!

Today I was privileged enough to attend (free of charge!) an international conference at my desk here in Brisbane Australia. How? I participated in webinars which were part of the Library 2.014  Conference, hosted by the Learning Revolution Project. These webinars were run by two very valued members of my Professional Learning Network – one of whom I’ve met in person just once, the amazing Judy O’Connell, and one whom I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting – the ever inspiring Jennifer LaGarde.Both of these ladies share generously online, via a range of social media – they blog, they tweet, they curate and they share their presentations via Slideshare – and today I was able to learn from them as they spoke about Leadership in a Connected Age (Judy) and Imagining Library Spaces of the Future (Jennifer).

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You can learn from them, and from a huge range of other presenters too – all of the webinars are recorded, and shared (again free of change, thanks to the generosity of sponsors).

So why am I posting about these speakers who so generously share their time and talents? It’s not only because of the amazing things I learnt (some of which I’ll share below) but also to promote the wonderful work of The Learning Revolution Project, led by Steve Hargadon.

2014-10-08_1506This project truly democratises professional learning, and allows anyone with a web connection to participate in conferences with world leaders of many different professions. It’s not just listening to the person speak and seeing their slides – it is also having the ability to ‘chat’ via the back channel (a discussion that goes on synchronously which the presenter can also see), to ask questions, share thoughts and resources – to meet people from around the world who are also working in similar areas, and to connect and share learning. This type of opportunity demonstrates the power of technology in learning today.

This video, shared by Judy this morning beautifully captures the amazing growth, potential and capacity technology is enabling:

The learnings of those who participate, as well as some of the key resources are being harvested in real time on a Padlet created by Joyce Valenza – herself another guru in the Teacher Librarian and Information and Networking Literacy worlds. It is joint constructions and the pooling of knowledge by participants with such global, wide-ranging experiences which will enable the new breakthroughs in learning to occur; but are we preparing students for this type of learning and engagement? Are we as adult life long learners embracing these changes and modelling them?

Both webinars, although having slightly different focuses, brought home to me the need to be open – to learning, to engagement, to experience and to new opportunities and potentialities.

Judy explored the world ‘out there': trends in knowledge construction, participatory cultures and social networks, and how we might use this information and access to lead others into a global, connected future. She shared research, such as From Chalkboards to Tablets (pdf) the power of the gestalt created by connecting via technology to solve problems (e.g. FoldIt – a computer game that allows players to contribute to solving scientific research problems through their gaming) and the awesome power of a simple Google Search  (Google Flu Trends – where searches with particular terms have been found to effectively indicate the spread of the flu ahead of any other measure). Judy challenged us to be aware, to be involved in knowledge construction, and to delve more deeply into this world – not to accept the surface level knowledge, but to become more literate via knowledge networks. I thought this quote was particularly powerful:

“The urgent dimensions of learning: the mechanisms for engaging with information and processes of learning in the acquisition of new knowledge has become a deeper process of individual and collaborative learning activities, problem solving and artefact development, occuring through an integration of face-to-face and online interactions within a community” Trentin, G. (2011) Technology and knowledge flows: the power of networks

Jennifer took us into the world ‘inside’ her school library, which, by offering experiences, the chance to play and experiment, to express student voice and create rather than just consume, is just as large, exciting and full of inspiring possibilities as the ‘outside’ world – because she has successfully connected her students to real world learning!

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Jennifer’s approach to learning is to make it real, engaging, and to bring the real world in. It is not about the technology, it is about developing a positive attitude to learning and providing a collaborative, ‘safe’ environment, where it is ok to learn by having a go – failing just shows you are trying something new! Jennifer values her students and listens to them – she lets their voice be heard, and considers their input – the kids have a say in their learning! This therefore gives them ownership and encourages engagement. Of course, Jennifer uses technology to bring about amazing learning – but even without this technology, her style and approach would remain the same – its not the tools it is the pedagogy.

I would encourage you to add these two thought leaders to your PLN – follow them on Twitter at @jenniferlagarde and @heyjudeonline, check out their blogs and become part of the global learning community!

 

Getting ‘REAL’ with web evaluation – tips and tools to develop information literacy

This is the second post in the series on developing critical and information literacy. The first post explored the need for critical literacy when learning from the web. This post explores strategies, tools and techniques for evaluating and verifying the credibility of information discovered online. The third and final post explores social media and how to verify its validity.

The ability to publish to a global audience is within the reach of anyone with a device and an internet connection. Identifying the signal in the noise is a challenge for anyone, and is a skill that must be taught. Fortunately there are many tools and tricks that make this easier.

Alan November, is an international consultant who is known around the world for his work in educational technology. He presents a great strategy for students (and anyone!) to apply whenever they are researching and need to confirm the reliability of the source of their information. He calls it the ‘REAL’ test. REAL stands for:

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1. READ the URL: When browsing the web or doing research, it is easy to follow one link after another, ending up somewhere completely different to where you started. Reading the URL in the location bar is the best way to answer the question where am I?. It is good to have the habit of checking the URL to see if you are where we thought you were, and to check the credibility of the website and therefore its information.

This diagram breaks apart a standard web address:

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Most web addresses begin with the letters ‘http’, which stands for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol – the protocol which allows two computers to communicate. If you see an ‘s’ added (https), this indicates a secure protocol is being used. You are most likely to see the secure protocol being used on sites where personal information such as banking details or credit card details are being communicated, like when shopping online.

The domain is the part of the URL which commonly identifies which company, agency or organization may be either directly responsible for the information, or is providing the computer space where the information is stored. In 2014, the number of active domains reached 271 million. The domain name may give clues as to whether the information can be trusted, but it is not the only part of the URL that is useful. The domain extension usually identifies the type of organization that created or sponsored the resource: e.g. * .com which identifies company or commercial sites,*.edu for educational sites,* .gov for government sites or * .net for Internet service providers or other types of networks.

If the domain extension is two letters, it identifies a country, e.g. .us for the United States, .uk for the United Kingdom, .au for Australia, .mx for Mexico or .ca for Canada. This can be useful if you are researching country specific information. For example, I often add site:.au to my searches if I am only looking for Australian results.

Information after part of the address is the file path, which shows where the file you are looking at is stored. This is really important. You can see in the example above that the file path is /~oddone/tutorials/page1.  While the domain name is useful to identify the validity or quality of a website, the filepath is also really important to look at. If the filepath has a personal name, a tilde, a percentage sign or the words ‘user, people or members’ it might mean you are on a personal site.

This is often the case with sites that have the extension .edu, – it is quite common for universities to give personal space on their servers to students – this means that the information on the page has not been published by the university, but is the personal page of student and therefore the information is not subject to the checks and balances that would be on the official university pages.

A good example of this is this website, the life and work of Jacopo di Poggibonsi which can be found at http://www.umich.edu/~engtt516/lifetimes.html. Although the site is hosted on the University of Michigan’s website, it is a very cleverly created forgery – no such person ever existed. The presence of the tilde indicates that the website is merely being hosted by the University.2014-10-03_1422

2. Examine the site’s content and history:

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by dullhunk

The currency of a webpage can often be seen by the date at the base of the page. However this only really tells you when the page text was copyrighted or last published. How can you see if the information is regularly updated, or if the website has changed over time? We can chart the progress or history of a web site thanks to the Wayback Machine.

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The Wayback Machine:  allows you to browse through 430 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To use this site type in the URL of a site or page of which you would like to research, and click the Take Me Back button. Once you have conducted your search, select from the archived dates available. This gives you an idea of how the site has developed over time, whether changes have been made and how regularly the information is updated.

3. Ask about the publisher or the author: Using a domain lookup service like easywhois, you can see who owns the site or who has published the material.

Alan November the example of martinlutherking.org because it is one that students could easily choose (it comes up very high in search results) and has been published to look appealing to students. Using a domain lookup to find the owner of the site reveals it is actually hosted by the server stormfront.org . If you search stormfront, you will find that it is a white supremacist organisation. You might not use this type of tool all the time, but if you are looking at information which could be controversial, open to bias or if you would like to know more about the publisher, this can be a handy tool to use.

Sometimes it just takes a simple Google of some key information from the site to check its reliability – take this example:  The idea of conducting Lasik laser eye surgery at home doesn’t immediately ring warning bells – and this graphic from the website should be warning enough!!
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However, if users are still unsure, a simple Google search for the Doctor who appears on the site confirms that this is indeed a hoax:

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4. Look at the links: Students usually only search using one search engine. They also believe that the top hits are the most important. Sadly, this is not in fact the case. Many businesses specialise in SEO – Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is all about improving the visibility of a web page in search engines search results. The higher ranked on the search results page your website is, and more frequently your site appears in the search results, the more visitors it will receive. The process of getting a website to appear high in the listings returned by a search is not based on luck, but on a complex series of strategies, including how the website has been built, and what key words are embedded in the metadata of a website.


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by tamper74

A great activity to explore the way web rankings work is to get students to enter Australia into the Google search bar. These are the results they will probably get:

Google: Australia
Why did WIKIPEDIA get first hit?
What is common about top three sites?

The search looks at the search terms and tries to compare with other content. When lots of pages have similar titles or content, it is the links that make a difference. Wikipedia almost always comes up at the top of a search not just because it is well known and popular, but also because there are so many sites that link to each Wikipedia page.

You can find out what sites are linking to the site you are evaluating by typing in the word link: and then adding the web address. Take the first site- Wikipedia address and type link: with address. It returns a list of websites that link to the site. Quite often, the more links the website has to it, the higher it appears on the hit list.

Here is an example of how you can use this tool as another way of evaluating its content. When I searched using the link: strategy and the blog I write for my work at Brisbane Catholic Education, you can see that three hits show that other educational websites have linked to the blog. If these educational websites consider the blog of value to share to their readers, then it is more likely that the content is reliable.

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The links to site will allow students to build a map of related commentary -who uses this site and considers it important enough to link to it?

The third and final part of this blog series explores using verification strategies when searching for information using social media. If you missed the first part of this three part blog series, click here.

Creating Interactivity: When an infographic talks!

Infographics are wonderful things. In this world of the visual, they provide an effective way of conveying a complex information graphically, so that the reader may quickly get an overview of a topic.

Tools such as Piktochart make creating infographics easy; with predesigned templates, a wide range of text and icon options and a simple click and drag interface, designing an amazing looking infographic is within the reach of everyone.

I wanted to go one step further, and create an infographic that was truly interactive.

The first step was to create an infographic that invited interaction. Being a based in a library, what better than to respond to that constant question, ‘what will I read next?’

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Ordinarily, this type of poster would invite viewers to read a short review of each book, but to introduce the element of interaction, I decided to use the Makey Makey and the Raspberry Pi to create a touch sensitive poster, where the users could point to the book of their choice, and listen to the book review.

Creating this was surprisingly easy. The Makey Makey is a device which, when plugged into the computer, replaces the keyboard or mouse and allows you to use almost anything (as long as it is conductive) to input data. You can see what I mean in the video below:

In the case of the interactive infographic, I used copper tape to provide the conductive inputs. I used Scratch to create a simple program, which when certain keys were pressed, would play sound recordings of reviews of each of the books I had chosen. Knowing that the Makey Makey provided input for the W,A,S,D,F & G, keys, it was easy to quickly create the program:
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So now I had a program which allowed me to play a recording of a particular book review each time a particular key was pressed.

Of course, I needed a computer to run all of this. Luckily, we had a Raspberry Pi, which, when installed with the Raspbian operating system came automatically with Scratch installed. You don’t need a Raspberry Pi computer – any computer will do – and Scratch is a free open source programming tool.

Installing my Scratch program onto the Raspberry Pi, I then connected the Makey Makey to it (see below)

The Raspberry Pi and Makey Makey

The Raspberry Pi and Makey Makey

After that, I went about attaching the Makey Makey to the poster, so that the poster became the input.

Here’s the finished product:setup

This could be applied to a wide range of contexts. The wires and tools don’t need to be visible; you could place the Makey Makey and Raspberry Pi inside a covered shoe box, and have the cables coming out through the lid.
Imagine the possibilities, now that posters can talk!

Making Sense of Maker Spaces – Resources and Ideas

This is what I didn’t know!!
creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by symphony of love

I was never an artistic child. I couldn’t draw, my attempts at painting were abysmal and when I tried to emulate my mother’s skills in crafts it became clear that I had not inherited her talents. Being rather academic, I figured that I just wasn’t ‘creative’ and that ‘making’ just wasn’t my thing.

Technology has changed all of that. It has become apparent that the view of ‘artistic’ and ‘creative’ I held growing up was far too narrow. I am creative! I am a problem-solver, I have an ‘eye’ for what looks good on the screen, and I have a very well developed sense of design. How do I know this?

It all began over ten years ago, when I got my hands on a copy of a basic webpage authoring tool, and began exploring the possibilities of web design. I realised that technology provided tools where I could create something practical, something useful and something beautiful – even though I still can’t draw anything more than a stick figure!

Fortunately today, there exists many avenues for creativity, and technology has grown so accessible and affordable that as educators we must offer opportunities for students to explore, develop and apply their creative skills in many different ways.

Recently I have been exploring the potential of ‘makerspaces’. Combining opportunities for design, science, technology, maths, engineering and the arts, these spaces offer students the chance to learn by doing. There are so many exciting and affordable technologies that allow students to invent and imagine incredible things, and with the The Australian Curriculum: Technologies coming online, now is the time to start exploring!

Two key resources for those who are interested in finding out more about Makerspaces in education are the seminal title ‘Invent to Learn’ by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, and the Makerspace Playbook, which is a free PDF. Click on their images below to access more info.

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The resources below have been compiled to support teachers who wish to explore this area; if you have any suggestions, ideas or experiences, please drop a line in the comments.

I have written extensively on implementing Makerspaces in classroom and library environments on the ResourceLink Blog: check out these posts at Resourcing the Maker Movement and Running a Maker Faire. These articles focus on the types of resources available, how to manage these resources and an example of how we implemented a hands on makerfaire at a primary school for Years 6 & 7 (11-12 year olds).

If you are looking for more ideas, resources and information, click on the images below to access a range of Pinterest boards which have been created in a number of different areas.

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Learning Spaces: Campfires, Watering Holes, Holodecks?

Our workplace has been in the midst of great change recently. Walls have been knocked down, furniture has been culled and storage systems replaced. The result is a huge space, which has brought many visitors from the upper floors, amazed at how different the area looks. We, who work in the space are experiencing a mix of emotions. The openness of the floorplan is very inviting; it encourages collaboration and a different way of working. However we also are struggling with the complete lack of privacy; our work area is open to the world, and any ‘mess’ we make –  processing books, creating displays, sorting through equipment – is oh so public. The space in which we work impacts upon us tremendously; not just in the way that we operate, but in how we communicate with others and how we feel emotionally.

Is it any wonder, then, that many question why we ask students to do their best work in uninspiring rooms, with uncomfortable (and sometimes immovable) furniture, under the glare of fluorescent lighting? While in many ways schools have changed, in some ways they remain the same. Most schools have at least some ‘traditional’ classrooms that are yet to be revisioned to reflect what we now know about pedagogy, environment and learning spaces. Who says that we need  front and a back of a classroom, or even a black/white board, when we consider the changes in technology that bring the information of the world into the palm of a student’s hand? The traditional classroom design is not necessarily the most effective model today.

Part of our physical change has been as part of a larger review of learning spaces in general; and has been accompanied by professional reading and research, most notably (as you may have noticed by the title of this post) the work of David Thornburg, Bruce Mau and the Third Teacher crew and Ewan McIntosh. I have tried to encapsulate some of what I have learnt into the infographic below.

Learning Spaces

For those undertaking any type of redesign, I would direct you to my Pinterest board, Learning Spaces, the Third Teacher , and also to follow the Twitter hashtag #inf536, which are the tweets of students currently undertaking the new CSU subject Designing Spaces for Learning, being run by Ewan McIntosh in consultation with Judy O’Connell.

Have you been on a journey redesigning learning spaces recently? Share your experiences in the comments!