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Posts Tagged ‘literacy

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”.


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.

dear john by jennypdx, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jennypdx 

A few days ago, I received this email from “Hanna”. This could be a real person or not.

Hi Dr. Tan,

I’m getting in touch with you because I’d like to contribute an article to your blog. I found your blog post as I was conducting research for a resource about how technology is used in education today.

The article that I’d like to contribute would be look at the most effective methods (and not so-effective ways) that technology has been introduced into classrooms and learning environments. How is technology used to improve knowledge retention and the efficiency of providing students with a wealth of information?

Please let me know if you’d be interested in an article of this sorts. I’d be happy to hear your opinions about this and work with you on hashing out a more cohesive idea if you’d like.



If this is real and Hanna really reads my blog, I expect a response by way of comment.

If this is not real, then this is what spam, marketing, or phishing is starting to look like. It can be hard to tell.

So here is my open letter response to Hanna and whoever else tries this in the future.

Dear Hanna,

Thank you for contacting me. I am surprised that you found my blog because it is among millions.

I am not sure that you will want to write in my blog because this is my expectation for it: I do not blog for views. I blog my views. I do this to learn and to shape my thoughts on educational technologies and technology-mediated pedagogies. This is in my About Me page. Perhaps you did not see this statement.

As for a topic, I do not think it wise to promote current technology for just knowledge acquisition or retention. We already have books and tests for that.

Far more important is how to leverage on technology to promote collaboration, communication, content creation, critiquing, etc. Today, it is less about WHAT you know and more about WHO you know and WHAT YOU DO with what you know.

If you are real, I would like to hear your thoughts in return.

If you are not, then kudos to you for trying.

Real or fake, I think you will understand my caution and skepticism. Better to err on the side of caution.

It would help you in your cause (the real attempt to connect or to deceive) if you provided more information about yourself beyond your name and Gmail address ( These days you are one Google search away from being verified or trashed.

Whatever the outcome of this exchange, I thank you for the opportunity to not just practice my digital literacies but also develop some digital wisdom.


If you have no idea what happened almost a week ago in Singapore, you might wonder if this forum posting was factual, a fake, or farcical.

If you thought this was factual (a child actually wanted strangers to help her choose a new class monitor), you might find it both amusing and sad. Amusing because of the way it was written; sad because it was written the way many kids here speak English.

If you thought the posting was fake, you could say you knew because no school would allow their students to use mobile phones so openly. There was also little point in choosing a class monitor when the school vacation was about to start.

If you thought that this posting was a farce or spoof of last week’s by-election in Hougang, you would be right. You might also appreciate the poster’s ability to create a believable classroom scenario.

I could use an artefact like this to highlight the importance of information and digital literacies. I might facilitate a session with these questions:

  • What online source does the screenshot look like it is from?
  • Do you think this is real? How do you know?
  • What sources of information helped you determine your answer(s) to the previous question?
  • What can you now teach your parents/peers/juniors?

I could also tweak the workshops I offer on Web 2.0 and social media by providing this scenario as context for learning technical and social skills.

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