Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Model Lesson at ISTE

We had about 60 people in attendance at yesterday's session. Dennis was home in Southern California and I was face to face with the 'students' in the room at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

There's a lot that can go wrong with a session completely dependent on technology, but our phone and Elluminate connections held up. Dennis pretty much led the session and I served as the Observer and Interpreter.

Here's a recap of what we did.

Using the site genochoice.com, we worked through three investigations to evaluate the credibility of the site. In the first investigations, Dennis demonstrated how a fluent searcher might approach the task of finding and evaluating the author or owner of a site. Using a think-aloud approach, Dennis came across multiple references to Virgil Wong, an artist. Keeping in mind that the website is devoted to DNA and designer babies, this is a potential Red Flag. Dennis also came across two other Red Flags: commercial bias (so much for sale), malware (detected by Dennis' virus checker). One of the participants found another possible Red Flag: bias, as evidenced by the availability of a 'fix' for homosexuality on the site.

Turning to the second investigation, participants were divided into four groups to fact check the name Virgil Wong. These groups were: Google, Yahoo, Bing, and any social media (linked in, faebook...). After a couple minutes searchers shared their discoveries. Virgil seems to be a real person, a PhD candidate in cognitive science who operates several websites for medical institutions, a faculty member in higher Ed, an artist who creates exhibits, including one called RYT Hospital, which is connected to genochoice.com. There are enough Red Flags at this point to dismiss genochoice as an authority on DNA and genetic engineering, but another question arises:

What is genochoice.com and why did Virgil create it? There is no simple answer to this question and demonstrates that there is enough depth here for a graduate level investigation into authority and credibility.

A third investigation was demonstrated using the link: operator. Many links to the site are internal, but those that are external provide the impression that this site is a hoax. There is adequate evidence that, while the site is not true, it is something other than a hoax. It could be science fiction, a deliberate attempt to stimulate skepticism as it relates to web information, or even a more subtle manipulation of cognitive processes by a skilled artist and cognitive scientist. Determining that remains the challenge.

In wrapping up, I observed that searching this way is non-intuitive for students. Once shown the strategies and techniques students easily improve, but they are not likely to discover these on their own. This can be demonstrated by the experience of students in the Center for Talent Development courses at Northwestern University. I'll have more to say about that in future blogs. These investigative skills can easily be woven into the context of any class that involves searching. But it takes a trained searcher in the leadership role. There remains a huge need for professional development in information fluency. It doesn't take long, but it doesn't happen without planning. There are lots of resources for delivering professional development on our main site, http://21cif.com. Take advantage of them.

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