Tag Archives: information

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. Slides to support these blog posts are available on Slideshare.

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;

bogus tweet

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.

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I am…Ask Me Anything!

These six words form the basis of a fascinating forum which exists on the popular social media site Reddit. In everyday life, most of us move in relatively small circles – and if we do meet someone who has had an extraordinary life experience, or who has a unique lifestyle or career, often social mores limit just what we can ask.

Enter the AMA (I am…ask me anything). Here you can learn about people who live in far away places – We are staff, students and teachers at a village middle school in Ghana in West Africa. Ask us anything., pop stars – I am PSY! Composer, singer, entertainer, and creator of “Gentleman” and “Gangnam Style”. Ask me anything, and parliamentarians – I am Scott Ludlam – Australian Greens Senator and national comms spokesperson. Ask Me Anything…

The anonymity of Reddit means that readers feel freer to ask what they really would like to know, and the rules of the AMA (literally, Ask Me Anything) means that the responses are more likely to be honest.

It was this recent AMA, from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam that prompted this post. While some AMAs are purile, many others are providing access to individuals that ‘average’ people would never be able to contact. Upcoming AMAs include Mason Peck, NASA’s chief technologist, Gillian Anderson, actress from THE FALL, Hannibal and The X-files, Major Blaine Jones, the lead solo pilot of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and Roger Federer, Professional tennis player.

Their discussions, answering questions from everyday people, not only creates a wealth of hitherto unknown information, but also makes these people more human, as they relate their stories and interact with the readers – a far more intimate and involving experience than what was previously available only through magazine articles and television interviews.

As an increasing number of celebrities choose to do AMAs (Barack Obama brought Reddit to a standstill when he participated: I am Barack Obama, President of the United States — AMA) a level of proof of identity is required. This is difficult to fake, and if there is any whiff of insincerity redditors (and the moderators who manage the communities) are quick to jump on it; this was evident during the recent Morgan Freeman AMA, where the photo evidence looked dummied up and the responses appeared to be from a publicist rather than the man himself.

So what does the AMA mean for access, open communication and the ability to access primary source information? Simply, it is a new way for those in positions of authority, for those with unique life experiences, for those who are famous to share their stories more directly with others who might never meet them normally. It takes the concept of a campfire chat and distributes it across the globe. It democratises access and allows ordinary people to ask the questions that they really want answers to. It allows us to learn more about other peoples’ life experiences, their thoughts, their opinions and their beliefs, and it creates a unique source of primary information that will be archived online. Imagine if Neil Armstrong, Christopher Columbus, Mother Theresa or Margaret Thatcher had completed AMAs – what a trove of information we would have access to!

How long does information live?

Over the last few hours I have devoted myself to catching up on all of the posts and comments generated by the very active EDCMOOC pre-course participants! There is such a wealth of information and wisdom. Quite a number of participants have commented on the overwhelming flow of ideas, tools, discussions, questions, and many have asked how to handle all of this.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Will Lion

Sadly, I have no definitive answers (although I manage a number of curation tools and I use these regularly to help me stay on top in my position as Education Officer: Digital Learning for Brisbane Catholic Education), which undoubtedly help.

These tools only go so far, however. You still need to read or at the very least skim the material to establish what to save and where to save it. You need to evaluate the information – is this something you need to read now, later, or never? There is just so much out there – you can’t deal with it all!!

Amidst this flurry of infowhelm, I began to look at the dates information was published, and wondered what the shelf-life of information is. When I was in high school (a long, long time ago!) it seemed ok to present research from books that were ten, even fifteen years old – indeed, most of the books in my school’s library were of that age!! That was the extent of the information I had access to, and therefore I used it to the best of my ability. Upon beginning a Bachelor of Business, I found that research that was more than five years old was looked upon with disdain by my lecturers; unless we were talking about classic economic principles or basic psych research.

One of my courses, a Graduate Diploma in Religious Education had Theology subjects where the texts were attributed to scholars of hundreds of years previously; so clearly the context and subject matter to some extent determine the age of ‘acceptable’ information.

However in this EDCMOOC, where tools live and die in a matter of months, where start-ups become standards in the course of a year and where technology changes over the course of what seems like hours, just how long is it until information expires in this context?


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by shareski

I find myself looking at articles written in 2010 and questioning their validity now in 2013. I look back at documents I created even six months ago and find them dated, with websites’ changing looks and perpetual beta rendering screen captures and descriptions useless for new learners.

And so, to the list of curation and collation tools, I add the filter of time. I respect that some things never change – good teaching will always be good teaching; and many truths hold no matter what format they are delivered in; however when overwhelmed with choice as to what article/post/infographic to examine, I will add the lense of timeliness and discard those that reflect on sites that have since changed or grown or simply transformed (let’s face it, Facebook was completely different even six months ago to it’s current form).

I’d love to know your thoughts; and if you have any other filtering strategies, please share!!