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Posts Tagged ‘literacy

This week I read two seemingly unconnected articles, one about US politics and the other about cultural literacy. I link them both and connect them to questions about schooling.

The first was a Wired article that contrasted the plans of Clinton and Trump as they drummed up support for their campaigns.

…you can learn a lot juxtaposing the optics of the campaign speeches Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave last week on the future of the economy. While Clinton spoke from the center of a tech hub in Denver, surrounded by millennials tapping away on MacBooks, Trump addressed a crowd inside a scrap metal factory in a Pennsylvania steel town, standing before a wall of crushed aluminum cans.

Before either candidate spoke, they’d cast two opposing visions. In Clinton’s, the economy hinges on investing in technology and the industries of tomorrow. In Trump’s, it depends upon reviving the industries of yesterday. Both aspire to create jobs. But one has a chance of achieving that goal, because history shows that industries survive the future only by embracing it.

Two potential country (and world) leaders outlined plans, one designed with the now and future in mind, and the other based on the nostalgic but increasingly irrelevant past.

The second article was also US-centric. It was a cutting analysis of how an older generation might accuse a younger generation of not having enough cultural capital.

However, using #‎BeckyWithTheBadGrades as an example, the author reasoned that the opposite was also true. Adults are just as ignorant of the culture of their children. A case in point:

By the same token, teachers are sometimes unable to connect with their students’ world views.

By some distorted reasoning, we expect the next generation to embrace the past — and they should cherish the good bits — but we do not acknowledge their now in order to help them shape their future. The author described schooling like this:

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

Is our schooling entrenched in the past? Is it led by leaders looking in the wrong direction?

More importantly, if we see the disconnects, what do we strive to learn and what do we do to address these gaps?

Our daily rags sometimes do us a disservice by publishing articles like this.

A headline that reads “Eating too much fish while pregnant raises child obesity risk” is not only inaccurate, it is also irresponsible. The researchers highlighted that there was no direct link and said that making such a hypothesis was “speculative”. The study did not prove causation; it only suggested correlation.

The headline is what grabs eyeballs. It is clickbait based on fear or worry.

If not scientifically or research literate, the layperson typically does not distinguish between correlation with causation. Perhaps we need a SkillsFuture course on this because it is a valuable lesson in lifelong learning.

If not, then we might ponder the observation of one of the readers: The Japanese consume a lot of fish, and presumably that includes pregnant women, but they have a relatively low obesity rate. So what gives?

Rising above irresponsible reporting, I wonder if literacy in schools includes the sort of critical thinking that 1) distinguishes between correlation and causation, and 2) encourages questions with counter examples and data.

Is such literacy relegated to “cyberwellness” programmes or is it integrated in the context of actual content?

 
When I read the STcom article Chocolate may be good for your heart, I recalled an expose by John Bohannon last month.

The expose was long but nicely summed up by this io9 article which stated how Bohannon blew the lid on:

faulty experimental design, gimmicky statistics, predatory open-access publishers, unreliable peer review, a hyped press release, and the uncritical parroting of that press release by media outlets.

io9 cited the media watchdog, Science Media Centre, which analyzed the original article and the university press release. io9 critiqued the popular press articles.

Long story made short:

  • The more recent chocolate article was better designed and was careful to indicate that links and correlation were not the same as causation.
  • The press was responsible for giving readers false hope and bad information.

When I last checked, the STcom article was shared on Facebook 525 times and tweeted 206 times. That is a lot of uncritical thinking and sharing.

Very few (if any) of the Facebook and Twitter sharers are likely to read the io9 article. io9 is an international site, and as the same time I checked STcom, the io9 article was liked just 68 times on Facebook.

Laypersons making uninformed decisions about their diets off popular press articles is not a good thing. If the press is not going to stop writing or redistributing such articles, then we must teach our kids to think more critically. One way is to promote better scientific literacy from everyday articles like the ones above.

There is no real need to wait for digital citizenship curricula or materials. Wait and it will be too late. Any teacher who cares about the sanctity of their area of expertise and about how their students think should be able and willing to incorporate such articles into their lessons.

This is the bottomline: It is not about content because this is easily forgotten. It is about nurturing critical thinkers in any and every domain. Real educators understand this and need not be bribed with chocolate.

Today’s rant is about the irresponsibility of some news rags and the importance of developing critical literacy among our learners.

In his critique of homework, Alfie Kohn ripped into poor and irresponsible reports by newspapers of research articles. I suspect that the reporters were not literate enough in the field of practice they were writing about or their editors had broader agendas to fulfill.

I might say the same of the Straits Times (ST) take on Tata Communications report, Connected World II: Where does the Internet come from?. ST labelled us the “second most Internet-addicted people in the world”.

Singaporeans_are_second_most_Internet-addicted_people_in_the_world__Survey

At no point in the report did Tata suggest Internet addiction. This phrase was not in the summary of findings nor in the research implications.

The Tata report made reference to “our growing reliance on the constant flow of information through digital media”, but that does not imply addiction. We rely on the Internet for information, work, entertainment, and education.

ST was entitled to make their interpretation, of course. But was this justified given the larger context of Tata’s research? Was this ethical given the responsibility of a newspaper to report and inform?

ST did not provide a link to the original report and I had to look for it. If ST wanted to make that claim, why not link to Tata’s study in part to give credit, in part to answer unanswered questions?

ST knows that most people will not question their interpretation of the study or bother to ask even the most superficial questions.

Juicy headlines sell newspapers, never mind if they are accurate or not. And as long as ST does not step on government toes or breach OB markers, they can keep dancing and sailing.

That is why our learners must learn critical information literacy. They must learn not to take anything at face value.

These days doing some research online is not like going the extra mile. It is an extra yard. By working smarter, a learner need only take an extra step that could make a difference in being informed or being misled.

I read this forum letter to STonline, Drawbacks of doing research on the Net.

I am reacting to it paragraph by paragraph. Warning: Some snarkiness ahead. The original letter is in bold italics.

As technology advances and information is readily and widely available on the Internet, more students are turning to the Internet to do research.

Thank you for stating the obvious.

Although Internet tools are welcome, it is a loss when the young generation no longer gets news from the newspaper and knowledge from books.

Although modern milking and killing tools are welcome, it is a loss when our children no longer molest cow udders or get their hands bloody by slaughtering them up close and personal.

We have different means to the same ends. What have we really lost?

I am also concerned that young students do not have the ability to judge whether information on the Internet is appropriate or even accurate.

Parents these days are too busy to police the online activities of their children, especially with their young ones having easy excess to smartphones and tablet computers.

Am I supposed to accept that kids automatically know how to judge that what they read in books and newspapers is appropriate or accurate?

I am concerned that the same parents who provide children easy access these devices are too busy to parent. Parents would rather blame something else…

Recently, my son, who is in primary school, told me he wanted to do research on war. The next thing I knew, he was doing his research through YouTube.

It may be appropriate for primary schools to incorporate lessons on the dos and don’ts of using the Internet. Perhaps some hours of the weekly social studies class could be set aside for this.

I wonder what that parent might have to say if her child also searched Wikipedia, war veteran websites, TED Ed videos on conflict, blog entries or articles by war historians, discussion forums or social media channels on current wars, opinion pieces by news and TV media online, curated resources by hobbyists and experts alike, etc.

Perhaps schools should focus on information literacy skills such as searching, collating, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing. Perhaps schools should teach kids how to think critically and independently.

Children should start off by doing research from library books, which are more reliable sources of information, before turning to the Internet.

Really? Would a library book about World War II have the same account if you drew it from Japan, Singspore, or the USA? Are there even library books about current conflicts in Syria, Iraq, or Crimea?

I have more responses, but I will put a lid on before I explode.

This letter reminded me of a recent #edsg conversation on Twitter (click on this link if the conversation does not appear below).

It is time for the parent who wrote the letter to step out of the cave into the new world. Stop hiding. Start living.

Stages of Digital Fluency by kmakice, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  kmakice 

 
Some weeks ago, the folks at #edsg revisited the topic of being digitally literate vs being digitally fluent. I am not sure how much new ground we created but we certainly unearthed some key resources.

At a much earlier conversation, I bookmarked Digital Information Fluency (FAQs) and The Difference Between Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency.

Both are useful starters and anyone can define these terms reasonably and differently. I borrow from these resources to define digital literacy (DL) and fluency (DF).

The FAQs define DF simply as “the ability to find, evaluate and ethically use digital information efficiently and effectively to solve an information problem”. It goes on to say that DF has elements of information literacy (IL) and technological literacy (TL).

I like to think of IL as building on the ability to read and write in order to search for, analyze, evaluate, and create resources. If you have TL, you have the skills to help with the searching, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. To borrow from the second article, you know what to use and how to use it. For me DL=IL+TL.

According to the second resource, if you have DF, you also know when and why to use (or not use) a tool or strategy. If pushed for examples, I might suggest that when searching you know when and why to use Google, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

A logical analogy is language ability. If you are literate, you know how to converse or to write sentences. You might be able to compose and propose.

But if you are fluent, you tell and get jokes that only a cunning linguist might take a licking liking to. You do not just read; you read in between. You do not just speak or write; you persuade and change.

Someone who possesses DF will be able to not just search effectively but also know to archive and possibly curate. When asked to recall or recommend, the digitally fluent need only reach for his/her network, archive, or curated work in order to inform and convince.

It might still be difficult to distinguish between DL and DF because they lie on a long continuum. But just like how we can tell someone who is literate from someone who is fluent, you can tell the difference DL and DF.

In one case you have the knowledgeable. In the other you have the knowledge-able.

Just thinking out loud…

New terms seem to emerge around educational technology. There are “digital x” forms like digital citizenship and digital fluency. There are the “x literacies” like assessment literacy and information literacy. The mother of such terms, digital literacy, might be the most vague of all

I wonder if we might just focus on citizenship, fluency, assessment, and being literate. While I can see some point of emphasizing how different these things might be, part of me resists the dichotomy of such thinking.

The intent of inventing and defining such terms may be good. They may exist to inform and to educate. But when descriptive terms get misinterpreted, or worse, to be prescribed, there is the temptation to create another confusing silo of thought and practice instead of a coherent whole.


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