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Posts Tagged ‘literacy

I read with interest this CNA article, Students taught to verify authenticity of online information.

One of our two education ministers responded to a timely question in parliament. The MP asked if “there were any programmes to teach students how to tell what’s fake news”.

Like any brief news article, there is information (which needs to be verified) and gaps (that need to be filled).

The MP who asked the question might be happy to get answers to two questions:

  • Is this form of information literacy taught? (Yes)
  • How it is taught? (by integration into subjects like English, History, Social Studies, and Character and Citizenship Education).

However, teaching something does not guarantee that it has been learnt. The urgency of the message might be apparent to the messenger, but it might not be meaningful to the receiver.

So there are at least two other questions that remain unanswered:

  • What is the evidence that such information literacy has been learnt?
  • How are students continuing to learn this given that “fake news” is a moving target?

In other words, what are we doing to move beyond basic competency to fluency?

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

YouTube relies on algorithms to guess what videos you might be interested in and make recommendations.

While it is machine intelligent, it does not yet have human intuit, nuance, and idiosyncrasies.

All I need to do is search for or watch a YouTube video I do not look for regularly and it will appear in my “Recommended” list. For example, if I search for online timers for my workshop sites, YouTube will recommend other timers.


Video source

If I watch a clip of a talk show host that I normally do not follow, YouTube seems to think I have a new interest and will pepper my list with random clips of that person.

This happens so often that I have taken to visiting my YouTube history immediately after I watch anything out of the ordinary and deleting that item. If I do not, my carefully curated recommendations get contaminated.

Some might argue that the algorithms help me discover more and new content. I disagree. I can find that on my own as I rely on the recommendations of a loose, wide, and diverse social network to do this.

YouTube’s algorithms cannot yet distinguish between a one-time search or viewing and a regular pattern. It cannot determine context, intent, or purpose.

Until it does, I prefer to manage my timeline and recommendations and I will show others how to do the same. This is just one of the things from a long list of digital literacies and fluencies that all of us need to do in the age of YouTube.

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.


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