Category Archives: Technology

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 finally endorsed, 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.

playbook3d-invent-to-learn

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).

I also have presented on this topic, and you can view the slides on Slideshare here.

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.

(I wrote a blog post about these Maker books on my work blog here.

More pins, arranged according to different types of maker activities, are below. Click on the images to access these boards:

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App-dependent or App-enabled: a challenge that extends beyond the App-Generation

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Howard Gardner and Katie Davis have authored a fascinating book entitled ‘The App Generation’, which focuses on how today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world. The book is based on their extensive research, conducted over several years, which includes interviews, focus groups and, interestingly, an examination of young people’s creative output (e.g. artworks, writing etc), sampled from a twenty year period.

Unsurprisingly, like any text which seeks to ‘define’ a entire generation, the text has garnered praise:

“Gardner and Davis have offered a challenging and thought-provoking book: particularly rewarding for educators who are interested in thinking about how young people are changing, and how we might preserve the best practices of our profession while adapting the tools that define a generation.”—Justin Reich, Education Week (3/11/13)

and some criticism:

“While Gardner and Davis valiantly try to avoid the clichés and stereo­types typical of discussions about culture and technology, their work still feels trapped in a kind of nostalgia, pining for a lost world.” – Jenna Wortham, The Times (1/11/13)

In many ways, the text confirms what many educators already knew, and what is, essentially, common sense: that the ‘app generation’ are different in some ways to their predecessor generations, and, in some ways still the same.

What piqued my interest more than anything was the idea of being ‘app-enabled’ or ‘app-dependent’ – the terms used by the authors to describe two possible outcomes for a life immersed in digital technology.

Those who are app-enabled use apps  as a launchpad to lead a richer life, with experiences enhanced by the access to information and connections to others that mobile technology allows. This contrasts with ‘app-dependent’ individuals, who let the gated garden of the app world direct and focus their life encounters, and, in many ways, limit their potential.

I believe these terms can go far beyond a description of those within the ‘app’ generation. They could be used to describe an attitude to technology that can often be seen in education; those who see technology as a key to opening up new worlds of learning could be considered to be app-enabled;  those who see apps as tools that simply replicate what has always been done, yet digitally, could be seen as app-dependent.

The challenge is to model the true potential for technology to transform learning and life experience, so that young people do not see apps as the outer limits; so that rather than seeing apps as an ends, they see the tools as a means to reaching new potential.

Being ‘app enabled’ means working towards the ‘redefinition’ level of Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Model. This model proposes that educators use technology at a variety of levels; none are necessarily bad, however they reflect both the purpose of the technology use, and the level of confidence and competence the user has to truly take advantage of the possibilities the technology affords. Not every tool or learning opportunity has the scope to fall in the ‘redefinition’ category – however being aware of the possibilities allows educators to always consider how digital tools enable students to achieve things never previously possible.

The levels can be seen below:

Taken from Puentedura's slides for his presentation at Spark : SAMR: An Applied Introduction http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Taken from Puentedura’s slides for his presentation at Spark :
SAMR: An Applied Introduction
http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Being app-enabled in the sense that I am referring to does not mean that every time a teacher reaches for a technology tool it must be transformational;  it simply means having the commitment, confidence and positive attitude required to think outside the box when using technology – for seeing how it might be used in ways not previously considered, and for not allowing the ‘rules’ of the tool to limit learning possibilities.

How does one begin? Perhaps by searching for creative ways of using the apps already in the teacher’s toolkit; those free and easily accessible tools that may be currently in use. The image below has just some ideas to get you started. These ideas are not necessarily at the redefinition level of the SAMR model – but they do demonstrate how one tool may have many different uses.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

 

Being app-enabled or app-dependent in this way goes beyond the tools; it is an attitude that we can model to students, and a belief in the creativity and potential possible using the huge array of tools so readily available.

Are you app-enabled? Share in the comments tips for how you use technology tools creatively!

 

 

 

Heartbleed – it’s the wake up call we all need.

The word on people’s lips at the moment is Heartbleed, and it is important that everyone who has an online account pauses to take stock.

Have you received an email  from a social media site urging you to change your password recently? Maybe you’ve seen this webcomic from XKCD, and wondered what it was all about…

According to the Heartbleed website, the Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. What does this mean? A great explanation can be found here; but essentially, the code that protects information which is sent back and forth from your computer to a website has an error in it, which enables a hacker to access not just the minimum amount of data that is usually sent, but possibly a lot more; like passwords and personal information. 

Another way of understanding it is by using an analogy like this:

You live in a high crime area. You return home one night and realise the garage lock is broken. It appears to have been broken for some time. You can’t tell if anyone has been in the house,  but you realise that you left a letter from your bank on the dining room table.  If someone had been in the house, they could have taken a copy of it, and may use it to rob you at a later date. You decide to contact your bank, just to be safe.

2014-04-14_1551Mashable has used their considerable reach to contact many of the most popular websites to see if their services may have been compromised, and published a list of sites which may be vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug; you will be surprised by how many you probably use every day.

Why is this a wake up call?

Let’s face it, we all have many online accounts these days, and we may not always take the best precautions when creating passwords, or managing them. Between email accounts, work intranets, social media accounts, online banking, online shopping and more, when you think about it,  you will probably be surprised by how many online accounts you actively manage.

Some people handle this by using the same password for every account. Others by writing every account down in a notebook. The worst way is by using sticky notes which attach to your computer screen. Not only do practices such as these put your own data at risk, if you are an educator or parent, it also models very poor security to your students or children.

While topics such as cyberbullying and internet addiction get a lot of media coverage, it is little things, like password management, which are so very important, and yet so easily overlooked. Practices such as the teacher openly sharing a password with students, or publicly consulting a written list of usernames and passwords do nothing to promote good security behaviours to students.

Using a password manager such as Keepass or  Lastpass or Dashlane, makes it easier to manage multiple passwords; teaching students about tools such as these is vital. With increasing numbers of services being delivered online, internet security, and having solid strategies for protecting personal information through the use of strong passwords is an absolutely necessary part of the knowledge set every individual needs.

One of the most important lessons students need to know; never enter your password anywhere except in a secure password manager and into the site which actually requires it; sites that allow you to enter your password to test its strength may not be secure – even Intel’s password checker site has been questioned. Tools which are installed on your computer, such as Keepass, allow you to test your password strength in a safer environment, and even better, will generate passwords randomly.

A terrific series of lessons on password security is available on the Common Sense Media website here: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/lesson/strong-passwords-3-5
Although it links to the US Curriculum, the links to the Australian curriculum are clear: in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability, it quite clearly states that by Year Four, students should be able to apply digital information security practices – making specific reference to the development of secure passwords.


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by The Daring Librarian

This content is no longer an optional extra for students today – and bugs like Heartbleed are reminders of this for all of us.

Just playing…why we need to let go and have fun!

When introducing teachers and other adults to using new technology, they often ask me how I learnt all of the tips and tricks that I know. My honest answer: I played with the technology. Yes, there are courses you can do, and tutorials you can complete; but the best way to become familiar with most types of new technology is to embrace your inner child and simply play.

The Highest Form of Research / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

There is irrefutable evidence that play-based learning is a key strategy for early years education.  Children learn through play because it allows them to practise skills, experiment, make mistakes and learn from them – all of things we need to do with technology.

Of course, playing with technology takes time. It requires time spent simply seeing what a tool or app does; entering dummy data, clicking on all of the buttons to see what they ‘do’ – discovering what makes the device or tool work most effectively, and what causes it to error or create less than pleasing results. Fortunately, the more we play, the less time it takes to familiarise ourselves as each new tool presents itself – it is amazing how many skills  developed simply through playing with technology are transferable across websites, devices and apps.

Fear is also another inhibitor. We have probably all heard horror stories of massive data loss and of hideous computer viruses that have infected machines via a seemingly innocent link. Ironically, it is through playing with technology that we will develop the familiarity and ‘savvy’ which will allow us to navigate these areas more confidently.

I do not believe that all those older than 25 are simply ‘digital immigrants’. This argument (which, by the way, is over 10 years old) implies we will never be completely at home with technology, and for many of us, this is patently untrue. I do believe that it is about having an open mind and a playful, creative and risk-taking attitude. This is the type of mindset we hope to develop in our students – how better to encourage it than to model it ourselves?

Why not set aside 30 minutes a week to simply ‘play’? Better yet, schedule your playtime into your class timetable, and allow your students this luxury also. Ask them to share one thing they learnt at the end of this time – and share your own learning too. You may find it is some of the richest learning time of your week.

Share your experiences of playing to learn below, or tweet me with the hashtag #playtolearn – I’d love to know what you discover!

Life through a Lense – the ubiquitous camera

I don’t know if the Apple advertisement’s claim that more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera is completely true – but I do know that we are taking more photos than ever, and more often than not, we are using phones to do it.

If you asked anyone about ten years ago if they would ever use a phone to take a photo, they would have looked at you as if you were daft. The two tools don’t seem connected in any logical way. Apart from futuristic ‘video phones’, the idea of a lense on your phone, which is essentially a voice driven medium would have been the furtherest from people’s ideas about the future of telephony.

Added to this is the ability for the phone to store hundreds of photos. They have replaced Grandma’s little photo album of the grandkids, and at gatherings you often see people clustered around a phone’s tiny screen, viewing someone’s favourite pet or last night’s antics.

The fact that we now all carry around a camera with us in our pockets has changed so much. When the police wanted to find the suspects of the Boston Bombings, they didn’t have to rely solely on security camera footage (although it was cctv footage that eventually led to their identification) – they appealed to the public, seeking photos and video people had taken on their phones which may have inadvertently captured suspicious behaviour.

Likewise the veracity of referees’ decisions was called into question last week, when French Open tennis competitor Sergiy Stakhovsky took his phone from the sidelines, to photograph the mark left by a ball he claimed was not out.

Now that we are not limited to 12 or 24 exposures, as used to be the case with film, there is no reason not to take photos everywhere and of everything. We can use this capability in so many ways – and like everything, there are positives and negatives.

“A photograph is a moral decision taken in one eighth of a second. ”
Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Our students now carry a powerful learning tool in their pocket all of the time. They can record their learning, capture an ‘aha’ moment and reflect upon it, create beautiful images and share them, build a history of their experiences far beyond what we have done in the past.

With this great tool, however, they can also create tremendous havoc. Everyone makes mistakes, and we should be able to learn from them and move on, not have them haunt us for the rest of our lives, captured forever in digital format. Photos that are taken on the spur of the moment and shared online will never ever truly disappear – no matter if they are deleted from a newsfeed or supposedly ‘self destruct’ in a chat service.

And so yet another avenue for solid digital citizenship arises. It’s difficult to get students to stop and think before taking rash actions – and even more so when they are with friends, at a party, caught in the moment. However it is vital for them to understand the responsibility that comes with being able to record a moment in time forever – and the power they wield with just one tap of the camera button.