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This week’s Crash Course episode on navigating digital information focused on evaluating evidence offered by online creators.


Video source

Anyone who says anything online needs to back up any claim with evidence. But not just any evidence.

Some might offer claims as evidence. Host John Green highlighted a claim about a new and supposedly deadly spider that had already killed five people in the USA. That claim (in all caps, no less) was made without reference to any other resource.

Others might offer wrong evidence after making a claim. Green provided the example of a US senator who brought a snowball into the senate floor and offered it as evidence that there was no global warming. This was evidence of winter and short term weather, but nothing against long term climate change.

In Green’s own words, not all evidence is created equally. So what are we to do? Ask two questions:

  • Does the information make sense?
  • Does the information merely confirm my pre-existing worldview?

Answers to both questions require value judgements and this can be a subjective process. To make things more objective, we could evaluate evidence by finding out how valid and reliable it is.

Validity is about how relevant and credible the information is; reliability is a measure of how much or how often that same evidence shows up.

I do not know how often I have uttered this phrase — I enjoyed that video about mathematics — but my guess is not often.

But here is one video and it claimed to tell you where math symbols come from.


Video source

I learnt a few things, e.g., the origin of the “+” and “=“ signs. There was no explanation for the “-“ and “÷” symbols. As a result, I also learnt that you cannot take a video’s title at face value.

Thankfully I had to figure out how to input the “÷” symbol in my reflection and a simple Google Search provided some insights.

It is fact that self-directed Googling is how many learn at work or at home today. It is also fact that this is still not how many learn in schools today.

So when I read articles like this…

… and pull quotes like this…

… I say that things do not add up.

The digital exams are not likely to mirror how we actually learn. Despite the claim that “students can more readily cut and paste, edit their essays, move paragraphs around. They can be asked to respond to an e-mail, write a blog or social media post”, I doubt that they will be encouraged to do this authentically in an exam.

In other words, they will not actually be connected to the Internet as we know it today or in the near future. They will not be allowed to “cheat” by Googling or cooperating or teaching. The medium for exams might change, but the method will barely budge.

When I read the tweet below, I recalled a few lyrics from Ice Ice Baby — stop, collaborate, and listen.

We should STOP assuming that cooperation and collaboration are synonymous. John Spencer did a great job of distinguishing the two in 2016.

Cooperation vs collaboration

To COLLABORATE is to engage in debate, work towards long term goals, and combine talents to create a product and/or process that no single person could on their own. Collaboration is unlikely to happen in 10 minutes of forced partnership.

We should LISTEN to the voices that challenge our assumptions. They might say things that are simple, profound, or simply profound.

I do not know why I started thinking about how the same English words are pronounced differently.

Depending on where you are from, you have your own pronunciation of tomato (to-mah-to or to-may-to) or algae (al-gay or al-jee). The first might be a regional phenomenon and the second might be linked to knowledge of the word’s Latin roots.
 

 
But I also think that the differences in pronunciation might also highlight usage in different domains. Take heterogenous, for instance. A chemist might emphasise the latter part of the word (heteroJEEnous mixture); a pedagogue might emphasise the earlier part (heteROHgenous groupings).

I bring up that last example because I just recalled a workshop participant who insisted that I had pronounced that word wrong when I was illustrating how a facilitator might group students.

I was aware of the different pronunciations, but he was not. I was more open to choice and context, but he was not. I found out at the end of the semester that I was willing to change, but he was not.

So different strokes for different folks, I guess?

Praxis is the combination of theory and practice, but not in the manner illustrated in the tweet below.

The tweet is ha-ha funny and might provide some insights into idiocy in real life, but accepting this as a given can have serious consequences. No one wants a lab for pharmaceuticals, energy storage, or DNA repair to say “nothing works and no one knows why”.

Praxis is about theory informing practice and vice versa. For these to happen, anyone who claims to have expertise must be well-read, and be a reflective and critical practitioner.

Beng well-read means keeping up with the latest theories and research. Being a reflective and critical practitioner is giving back to that pool of knowledge. Doing these avoid the situation where “nothing works and no one knows why”.

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Recently I bought a two-headed thumb drive for my son to use at school. I should have saved my time and money.


Video source

It is not that the drive does not work; it does. Both my wife and I have the same model, so we know that it is reliable. It is that we rarely have to use our thumb drives.

I do not think that my son has even plugged his drive into his laptop. Like me, he is used to cloud computing and storage. The thumb drive is a relic of the past and needed only rarely. And so is the practice of using thumb drives.

During a visitation this lunar new year, a family member played a video of a gathering on an almost 30-year-old video tape.

Through the video “snow”, we watched a snippet of Singapore in 1991. Folks gathered around the TV screen to question their fashion and hairstyle choices, and to gossip about relatives who had since passed away.

Since the video featured the apartment we were in, some marvelled at how little had changed by comparing what was on screen with what was around us.
 

 
Only one part of the video caught my attention. While the adults in the video chatted in the living room, a girl busied herself by playing video games on an old console.

Back in the room, my son was sitting in the same place as the girl in the video. In between watching the video time capsule, he played video games on his iPhone. So much time had passed, but so little had changed.

I was not thinking about kids being kids. I was thinking about how quick adults are to judge kids as they explore and learn on their own. I was also wondering how oblivious adults are to the change process (or the lack of, in this case).

For me, the visitation video was a reminder that things might seem to change superficially. But if we dig deeper, things actually remain the same. The way to tell if anything has changed at all it to examine the history of a behaviour or practice.


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