Monday, March 30, 2015

Information Warfare

In the 10-15 year history of digital information literacy, the need has generally been to help students find accurate, credible information and use it ethically. The stakes were typically low, i.e., school assignments, reports and personal projects.

Nowadays, there's a bigger threat to illiteracy: information warfare.

NATO has launched a Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, Latvia for the purpose of combating alleged pro-Russian propaganda. The purpose of the Center, according to Director Janis Karklins, is to "develop skills of media information literacy and critical thinking in our education system to make it harder for adversaries to disorient the population." Read the full article.

The Internet may be a greater hazard than ever as a tool for terrorist recruiting and military "hybrid warfare." The challenge is how to educate populations to recognize and resist information that is created specifically to control or disorient thinking.

Educators would do well to keep an eye on the Center's activities to see how they propose to educate an populace about propaganda. Better yet, it may make an excellent language arts or social studies assignment for high school students to see Internet warfare and effective defenses in action.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Information: To filter or not to filter?

Making it easier for children to use digital information does not always prepare them for real life tasks.

Filtering information to make it more kid-friendly takes several forms. A recent Japanese study found that students were more successful when given information that was presented in an organized way. For example answering a multiple choice test based on what different sources said, by providing the students with four sources. But when asked to determine the answer to a simple question that involved selecting relevant pages from a fictitious Website, the majority of students--more than 90% of elementary and 88% of middle school students--could not answer the question.

Analyzing the results, professor Kazuo Nagano concluded, "(students) need to acquire skills to filter disorganized pieces of information to find solutions, whether online or in the real world." Read more

What information do you provide your students? Disorganized or filtered?

Try this challenge with students: What is the year-round temperature of Fauntleroy Creek? Start here--  This is a real Website and the information is only three clicks away. For younger students, start at #1 or #2.
This is a browsing activity--searching through "disorganized" (unfiltered for students) that is bound to be frustrating. If the students know the answer is only 1 or 2 clicks away, it helps. This is one way to scale the activity without overly filtering it. What links are most promising for getting to the answer?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Dark Side of Bias

Recognizing facts and evidence of freshness are only two of the filters fluent readers must apply to digital information. Another type is author subjectivity or bias, of which, propaganda is a more extreme form.

Propaganda, as described on the Information Fluency site, is the "dark side of bias:"
"Propaganda is the dark side of bias. Propaganda techniques are designed to influence opinion by manipulating the truth. A propagandist is completely biased in favor of some point of view.
"Knowing propaganda techniques will help you analyze webpages, understand advertising, and recognize bias when you see it.
"Authors who use name-calling and strive to evoke fear are using tried and true propaganda techniques. Appealing to the group, using glittering generalizations, and relying on testimonials are very persuasive techniques, especially if the audience is unaware of how propagandists operate."  Source

Here's a new resource, Mind Over Media, that your students may find engaging, since they can upload instances of suspected propaganda and have others react to it. There are also examples that may be used for teaching.

Not to recognize propaganda puts the reader at risk of becoming an unwitting pawn:
Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
-Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell  Source: Propaganda and Persuasion

Monday, February 23, 2015

Still a Challenge

not enough time
Here's a challenge: According to a recent survey by ImagineEasy, an online citation and research management platform that includes EasyBib, school libraries are addressing information literacy in ways that are consistent with colleges having to train incoming student in digital researching.

Learning to search efficiently in several databases, evaluate the information and cite it are not difficult skills. Yet most students aren't up to the task when they arrive at college. Here's why:

The following profile of K-12 schools emerges from the 1,100+ responses to the survey:
  • 37% of K-12 schools offer one shot sessions in researching
  • 23% offer a combination of approaches
  • 12% offer nothing
  • 9% are currently developing curriculum
  • 0% offer a course
  • (apparently the rest didn't answer the question)
"One shot" instruction is the norm. I've heard numerous participants at workshops in information fluency describe this model: you get the students for 45 minutes and need to teach them to use the library and related tools. Not an effective model for teaching how to formulate a research question, how to turn that into a query, know which database(s) to search and what to do with the results. Students are left to learn that on their own, armed with experience using Google.

When asked how confident students feel about their search skills, they tend to overrate their abilities (confidence is higher than demonstrated proficiency). source: Teaching Information Fluency Most of this self-perception probably comes from being self-taught and a steady diet of easy Internet searches. Teachers are also susceptible to thinking more of their abilities than is deserved. When encountering a challenging search problem, they get as frustrated as students.

One of the reasons we developed search challenges on the site is that they can be used as short instructional segments during class time or assigned outside of class time. The challenges are harder than most things students search for and focus on strategies and techniques that come in handy when performing research tasks. To get a flavor of some Challenges, visit this tutorials page.

Finding time during school is still a challenge. It hasn't become any easier and that's not going to change soon. One option to developing a new curriculum from scratch, meeting with students for one-shot sessions or doing nothing is to find ways to reward students for solving search challenges. You can run contests. You can use free search challenges from our site as the content. If interested, we can offer digital badges as an affordable package.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Incentivizing Information Literacy

Should you reward students who locate information, evaluate it and cite it properly?

Clatsop Community College in Astoria, OR is doing just that. With money funded by coffee donations, the library is offering cash prizes to research projects that demonstrate:
  • The proper use of in-text citations
  • The variety of sources
  • The reference page or works cited page
  • The evaluation of sources, and
  • The incorporation of sources into the paper
Visit the contest page

In what ways can you incentivize information literacy (fluency)? Would badges work for your students? At 21cif we are exploring the use of digital badges for solving a variety of search, evaluation and citation challenges. We're continuing to focus on discrete skills that lead to synthesis and a completed research paper.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How well do students evaluate online information?

As students continue to grow up online, are they getting any at discerning the credibility of the information they read? Are schools having an impact on students' information literacy?

A recent study by Donald Leu at the University of Connecticut indicates "no."

From the article:

" is important to observe that students in both districts performed at a low level during these online research and comprehension tasks. West Town students were able to respond correctly to ORCA items only about half of the time and East Town students only about 25% of the time. This represents very low mean levels of proficiency with online research and comprehension, and it raises an important concern about student preparedness for learning from online information at the seventh-grade level." source, page 53

The ORCA (Online Reading Comprehension Assessment) measured four clusters of skills that experts typically associate with information literacy (new literacies): locate, evaluate, synthesize and communicate. (It should be be noted that Information Fluency project focuses on the first two of these.) 

Two research performance tasks were given to 256 middle school students, namely, “How Do Energy Drinks Affect Heart Health?” and “Can Chihuahua Dogs Cure Asthma?" The combined results for the tasks are shown below--Means and (SD). The first column is West Town school, the second is East Town school (both are fictitious names). West Town is characterized as more affluent.

In terms of Locate and Evaluate skills, students with economic advantages demonstrated proficiency slightly better than 50% and 25%, respectively. Economically disadvantaged students achieved significantly lower marks. This reveals a digital divide between students based on economic advantage, but also shows that students persist in their inability critically to evaluate information found online.

The article is definitely worth reading and places these proficiencies in the context of reading online, which must not be overlooked in helping students locate, evaluate, synthesize and communicate digital information. Read more here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lies Around the World

It's always good to have lies online labeled. But most aren't.

Here's a website that showcases a number of Internet lies from what could normally be considered reputable sources. The content just doesn't stand up to fact checking. Looking at an author's reputation is not sufficient to determine credibility in these cases.

If you are looking for some good examples to use with students on how to fact check, pick a couple from the list.