Category Archives: Information Literacy

Pay Attention!


Following Karl Fisch’s series of presentations that have fostered a lot of discussion (see e.g. Karl’s blog), Darren Draper ( Technology Curriculum Specialist in the Jordan School District in Utah) has come up with “Pay Attention” and an accompanying list of resources. Much has already been written about this video, as it has circulated on the web for about a month now (that tells you how far behind in my reading I am!).

Karl Fisch calls it a “conversation starter”, Vicki Davis calls it “powerful and amazing”, etc., etc.

The thing that really caught my eye were a couple of very small parts of the presentation, namely student comments:

We have learned to ‘play school’. We study the right facts the night before the test so we achieve a passing grade and thus become a successful student. 

I’m not attention deficit, I’m just not listening (and we wonder why!!)

When I go to school I have to power down.

I really like this last one as it speaks volumes about what kids are capable of and what we do with them in formal educational settings. Kids want to learn, kids love technology and it’s an essential part of their lives (another student quote from the video: “When you lose your mobile, you lose part of your brain”).  How hard is it to put the two together? Or to put it in Darren’s words, Since most of today’s students can appropriately be labeled as “Digital Learners”, why do so many teachers refuse to enter the digital age with their teaching practices?

I think a lot of it still has to do with issues of control and fear, as I’ve discussed in my recent Innovate article (open content, but free registration required), David Warlick talked about in his post “Fear & Death! Fear & Death!”, and is a focus of danah boyd’s research. I will be hosting a webcast on this very subject on May 8, 2007, 12 PM EST. If you’d like to talk about this some, please join me then.

Image Credit: “Warning! New Stop Sign Ahead”. laffy4k’s photostream:

4-16-2007 continued


Just a couple of additional sources that shed additional light on the role of new media sources in the coverage of major news events, and the ways in which news reporting is changing. Paul Bradshaw writes in a short but interesting post in his Online Journalism Blog that

Unlike previous user generated content milestones like 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, this story took place in the heart of the new media generation, and the resulting coverage is more comprehensive, more accessible, and takes in more new media forms, including social networking.

Via this same blog, I came across this post on Poynter Online, which provides an interesting collection of “user-generated content” of the Virginia Tech tragedy, from a journalistic point of view. Lots of interesting stuff; and like Bradshaw says in his post, roles are changing:

1) the need to develop the awareness of, and skills to find, this material; 2) in the face of such comprehensive and accessible first-person reporting, the need to develop new roles, perhaps as gatewatchers, facilitators and filters rather than reporters.

And by the way, this doesn’t hold true just for journalists ….

Image credit: “One Day Blog Silence”, David Leggett’s photostream:



What happened yesterday at Virginia Tech University is awful beyond belief, and I’m sure the event will be analyzed out the wazoo by the U.S. and global news media. When I started to follow the story (not really until sometime last night), I started drawing parallels to a similar event that happened at the University of Iowa on November 1, 1991. I lived mere blocks from where that shooting happened and was home at the time of the event.

In 1991, we learned about the event from the local television stations, and a more in-depth write-up appeared in a special edition of the university’s newspaper the next morning. Compared to the deluge of information that will come from the Virginia Tech campus and beyond within the next weeks, the amount of information released immediately following the 1991 shooting was fairly small (even the wikipedia entry for the Virginia Tech shootings is already larger than the one for the University of Iowa shooting).

Anyway, I won’t dwell on the facts too much here, as plenty has already been written and will be written by the major news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. However, what is interesting is that had this event taken place before the advent of the Internet like the shooting in Iowa City, my information sources (and therefore my take on the tragic events as they unfolded in Blacksburg) would have been very different. I didn’t really watch TV news channels yesterday. In fact, I picked up on the story via a few different blogs in my Feedreader. After a cursory look at the headlines on MSNBC, I got quite a bit of information (and links to a variety of other sources) from this post on Boing Boing, which led me to images on flickr here and here. I also found some videos on YouTube. In addition, quite a bit had already been written in the edublogger community by the likes of Anne Davis, Vicki Davis, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Wes Fryer.

What struck me is that pretty much everybody who mentioned the event mentioned the wikipedia entry. Wes made an interesting observation:

From an information literacy perspective, following the comments on the history page of the WikiPedia entry for this incident is illuminating. What are the authors discussing and commenting on?
– What is the reference for that?
– Are included details and links relevant to this situation?
– Is accurate language being used, or are unwarranted exaggerations being made?

These types of discussions about information posted online and its accuracy are extremely important skills for our students to master, as it is easy to just believe what’s posted online because it is online. There’s an obvious danger in this kind of blind faith, and it surfaces even in tragic situations like this one, as this follow-up story from Boing Boing shows. An excerpt:

Blogs and online discussions yesterday misidentified 23-year-old Wayne Chiang (above), a VA Tech student with a penchant for guns, South Park, and bummed-out blog entries, as the shooter responsible for the VA Tech massacre.

Mr. Chiang’s “wanusmaximus” livejournal (“Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”) and Facebook profile include many photos of heavy weapons, and vanity shots of him posing with quantities of those weapons.

Mr. Chiang is Asian-American, and early reports indicate the VA Tech shooter was, too — which added to many internet accusers’ certainty that he was the killer, even though investigators still have not disclosed the name of the actual VA Tech murderer.

Comment fields on Chiang’s site soon filled with racist lines like “so u are the asisan that shot up the school. i hate u and your people.”

But, news alert: lots of LJs look like Chiang’s. Gloomy web poetry and a gun hobby don’t prove a dude is a mass murderer. After dozens of “j’accuse!” blog posts linked to his journal like so many pointed fingers, Chiang finally posted an update late last night:

Coming out. I am not the shooter. Through this experience, I have received numerous death threats, slanderous accusations, and my phone is out of charge from the barrage of calls. Local police have been notified of the situation.

As I’ve discussed before on this blog, the nature of news production and consumption is changing (see e.g. this post on SmartMobs), and major news events such as the tragedy at Virginia Tech are prime examples. What it means for education is that we need to seriously rethink how we teach our children to examine news, showing them the importance of not only accessing information, but carefully analyzing it, juxtaposing different points of view, and trying to construct the most accurate and comprehensive story from a large number of very different sources.

As for all of you at VT who have been affected by the shootings, know that my prayers are with you…

Image Credit: “Prayers for Virginia Tech”, from busiguy6’s photstream:

Information Literacy, Part II


The recent IDC white paper, “The Expanding Digital Universe” provides some interesting numbers on digital information, as well as some prediction through 2010.  A few examples:

  •  In 2006, the amount of digital information created, captured, and replicated was 161 exabytes (or 161 billion gigabytes, which numerically would be 161,000,000,000 GIGAbytes).
  • Between 2006 and 2010, the digital information added annually will increase sixfold from 161 to 988 exabytes.
  • Digital images comprise the largest component of the digital universe, captured by over 1 billion devices.
  • By 2010, 70% of the digital universe will be created by INDIVIDUALS.
  • In 2007, the amount of information created will surpass, for the first time, the amount of storage capacity available.
  • Growth of the digital universe is uneven, with emerging economies slowly catching up to established ones such as Japan, the US, and western Europe.

The Web Worker Daily Blog provides some interesting comments on the IDC’s predictions in a post called “Information and the web worker“, for example that

2007 is the year that our ability to stuff bits into the digital universe will outstrip our ability to store them. By 2010, the total amount of data will overwhelm the total amount of digital storage by a factor of nearly two to one. Whether it’s that e-mail offering to sell you a timeshare condo, the picture of your niece that you sent wirelessly to your mom, or a show that you recorded to watch later, something is going to be lost forever – and looking at the trends, the proportion of things that get lost forever will keep increasing.

More interestingly, however, are the comments on what this all means for knowledge workers,  namely that the work that these people do can to some extent be compared to switchboard operators:

When I look around I see a world where the real value is in connecting people and knowledge. But doing so in utter secrecy doesn’t scale. We don’t do sellside vs buyside. We do active endpoints. We don’t represent one side or the other. We represent the network. We’re switchboard operators for the digital knowledge economy.

That’s what social networkers are and do. We’re connectors.  

As I said, the switchboard operator analogy holds up only so far, and as somebody else already commented on this post:

There’s more to this connecting stuff than just pulling together the bits that anyone _could_ find: it’s being the people who actually _take the time_ to find the connections in amongst the huge stew of everything out there on the Internet.

That’s one of the places the operator analogy falls down. Operators were pretty much passive connectors: a call came in from person A who wants to reach person B, and the operator is the one who knows how to make the connection, but they don’t have anything to do with deciding what connection to make. The valuable operators in this new economy are those who spot the useful connections and initiate them without being prompted.

So where am I going with all of this? I think it should be pretty obvious from the above that just learning how to read, write, and do basic math isn’t going to cut it anymore, yet that’s what we do in education in many cases. Students need to learn how to search for, aggregate, analyze, synthesize, create, and communicate, and they need to be able to do so in an increasingly digital world (hence also the need for more social studies education in such areas as citizenship and global awareness). We can no longer afford to prepare kids with skills for an industrial economy, those days are long gone. The area I live in, Northeast Ohio, is a prime example, as further discussed in this earlier post.

Literacy is extremely important these days, even more so than in the past. However, as the nature of information is constantly changing, so should the ways in which we teach our students to be literate, and that means going way beyond learning how to read, really!

Image Credit: “DSC04332″, Neil Rickard’s photostream:

The Importance of Open Content


This one’s been sitting on my “to write” list for quite some time now, but a visit to the university library yesterday reminded me of it.

The idea of open content online is a simple one.  As Judy Breck has written in 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning, and  in this article:

Open content for learning, which is the substance of the global virtual knowledge ecology, is free, reusable, connectable learning subject content within the open Internet. It is easy to assume open content is applauded because it is altruistic for content creators to let what they produce be used charitably, for free. A much more fundamental advantage is the openness in the sense of being connectible to all other open content. Any content that is closed in the connective sense will atrophy in a withering that will ultimately punish those who sought proprietary profit.

I agree with Judy that access and connectibility are key ingredients. To that I would add (and this is by no means a complete list)

  • creativity: learners creating content; prime examples are Wikipedia, Curriki, and any of the myriad of media sharing sites that are out there;
  • accuracy: if content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be accurate. Wikipedia has been at the center of the accuracy discussion. If you ask me, I’d put more faith in Wikipedia content than the average textbook, because I know online content is up-to-date, multimodal, and checked by many (relatively speaking) for accuracy;
  • quality: see “accuracy”. If content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be good;
  • the power of groups and collaboration: many small ideas lead to big ones; examples of this include Google Image Labeler and Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): , as described in this earlier post.

Obviously, open content does bring with it its own issues that will need to be addressed, such as

  • access: does “open” mean “unfiltered”? 
  • copyright: Creative Commons is a workable solution for this issue. It’s a matter of content creators being willing to use Creative Commons instead of more traditional forms of copyright. A good example is Gilmor’s We the Media
  • authority: or the importance of source. See e.g. this post by David Warlick.

What triggered my memory to write this post was a somewhat forced trip to the university library yesterday. I was working on a paper and a tight deadline when I was looking for some specific information on the history of cell phones and cell phone use. I figured, no problem, hopped on the Internet, searched wikipedia, ran some queries through Google and Google Scholar, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find the info, or if I thought I had, it was inaccessible because it was through a subscription service.

Finally, I turned to our library to look for a book or two on the topic. Usually, this isn’t a problem, as our library has a nice service where you can order the books and library staff will pull the book for you and order it. All I have to do is go pick it up (in past years, they would even deliver to your office). Anyway, because that usually takes a day or two I had no choice but to go get the book myself. According to the database the book was readily available on the shelf.

To make a long story short, I finally found the book on one of the sorting shelves (and out of order) after 30 minutes of searching. The trip to the library took me about an hour, time I could have spent writing if the information I needed had been readily and openly available online.

Of course, in a formal educational environment an occurence like this tends to have larger consequences, as teachers and students don’t have the kind of time that I do to go peruse the library for an extended period of time. Immediate access to digital information online and in the classroom is key to maintain the flow of learning.

Another interesting observation here is my dissatisfaction with the whole affair. A few years ago going out and getting the book wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. However, with the pervasiveness of the Internet and online resources, I think immediacy of access is something that we’ve come to expect; I know I have …

Image credit: “Open”, tribalicious photostream:

More Good Reasons Why Technology and Media Literacy Should Be a Part of Every Education


Amidst the deluge of posts I’ve been trying to wade through in the past few days is this gem by Vicki Davis, “Spies Like Us“, in which she discusses the implications of evermore wireless and mobile technologies, and what schools should be doing to be better prepared for the influx of mobile devices. As Davis states, banning the devices is not the answer, as students will find ways around that, as the cell phone controversy in New York City has shown.

Davis proposes that schools:

  1. update acceptable use policies;
  2. come to an understanding that the new school hours are 24/7;
  3. understand the importance of technology education including ethics;
  4. understand that blocking doesn’t protect your school from the technology and its uses;
  5. understand that information does not travel in straight lines.

Very well said, and I would like to add the following:

   6.  understand that the new school “day” goes beyond the brick and mortar of the school building. School has become much more of a process than a place (to go along with #2).  This also has implications for school policies, because where do you draw the line as far as school authorities being able to interfere with what kids do outside of school? An excerpt of an article of mine that will be published in Innovate this spring:

Because the online world and new technologies are blurring boundaries between school and the rest of the world, educational institutions are debating where to draw the line when it comes to regulating student use of the Internet. Many schools now have policies that hold students responsible for their online actions outside of school, and more and more students are being punished for what they post on the Internet. For example, in North Carolina, a student was suspended for 10 days for posting an altered picture of his school’s assistant principal on MySpace (Student Press Law Center, 2005).


These developments have raised First Amendment and free speech issues for students. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that high school students have First Amendment rights at school, but speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is … not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech,” with the burden of proof on schools (U.S. Supreme Court, 1969). School administrators now argue that the “substantial disruption” standard from the Tinker decision should apply to what students do outside of school, including online. Civil liberties attorneys have countered by saying that what students do and say outside of school should be the parents’ responsibility, and that schools are overstepping their boundaries, especially when students are critical of the schools they attend.

I wholeheartedly agree that blocking or banning is not the answer. Not only are those attempts futile ones in many cases, but we lose the opportunities that we have to teach students about the ethics of technology use, which, like Davis writes, is another critical component of a technology education for kids. In fact, many state and national standards include standards on ethics, for example ISTE’s:

  • Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
  • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
  • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity. (ISTE, 2005).

In fact, in ISTE’s proposed new technology standards for students, as blogged about by Julie Lindsay, ethics will take on an even more prominent role, as part of a section called “Digital Citizenship”. And by the way, I agree with Julie in that the standards, including the ethical ones, should be given a more global “flavor”.


As I said, great post by Vicki Davis; as far as I’m concerned it should be required reading for all teachers, administrators, and parents (and kids too)…



Image Credit: “James Bond’s Little Nellie”, Elsie esq.’s photostream:

The Future of Education?


Here is the latest article in Time on the future of education, entitled “How to Bring Our Schools out of the 20th Century“, which I ran across via a this post by David Truss (which is worthy of a separate post in itself). For a change, the authors of the article focus on

the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.

Various people have already commented on this piece, including the likes of Will Richardson, David Warlick, and Wesley Fryer. All good posts, so no need to rehash their thoughts here. And by the way, the contents of the Time article are by no means limited to the United States. In fact, the article reminded me of a conversation I had with Graham Brown-Martin of HandheldLearning on mobile technologies and learning which included statements like:

Building schools for the future should not be about the architecture, but what school means. Is the school a building or a community, is a fundamental question; is school a community where learners with mobile tools can access information in different locations?

School has been a state-provided nanny. Is that really what we want educational systems to be about moving forward?” Kids need to be taken care of, but should be more than child care. Maybe kids should be at school to play and at home to learn. And what impact does that have on society?

Schools are going to be digitized out. You have to think in terms of Web 2.0 technology, different learning objects that are available everywhere, eventually we find something that we can understand.

With mobile technologies we are seeing a change. Students can assemble their own learning materials. Teachers will still be around, not replaced by technology. There will actually be more teachers, making all this stuff, making materials for learners. Inevitably, the definition of teacher is going to change from caretaker to teacher.

Maybe these are some of the conversations we should start having….

Image Credit: Nadya Peek’s photostream: