Tag Archives: internet

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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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.

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.

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.

This is why I love the internet

It began for me a long time ago – a love of reading, of investigating, of learning new information. I read every book in our bookcase at home, visited the library (both school and public) and still I wanted more. I even read all of our World Book encyclopedias! When Mum and Dad bought our first computer, I was about 13, and a new world was opening up. One cd rom could hold mountains of information – and stuff like Encarta kept me going for a while…but then – in the early ’90s…came the internet!! Yes, it was slow at first – infuriatingly so – but wow – a bookshelf that never ran out! As the years have passed, and with the explosion of content sharing mechanisms such as blogs, and wikis, as well as tools that allow you to randomly access the wealth of material out there (StumbleUpon and Reddit, I’m looking at you) this bookshelf has grown richer and more involving. It has transformed from a one way channel of text to multiple streams of whatever multimedia you can dream of – images, videos, music, text…and the interactivity means that whenever you have a question – no matter how obscure, no matter how simple or complex – someone out there has an answer for you.

This morning, when I saw this:

Freezer Friday

Click on the image to see the entire album


I was reminded once again about the amazing sharing and the insights we can gain from this powerful tool. This guy is clearly a gifted cartoonist – and using his freezer as his canvas is genious – however just 20 years ago, his talents would never have been viewed by myself; particularly if he restricted himself to the freezer!! Today, I can not only enjoy his sketches, I can share them with you – and so will countless others.

The power of sharing our talents and wisdom via the internet never ceases to inspire me; and provides me with the tool to become a lifelong learner in ways I never could have imagined if I was born even 40 years earlier…this is why I love the internet!!!