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Here some of my notes on the second part of Crash Course’s series on media and digital literacies.


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This episode focused on fact checking. To do this, presenter John Green outlined a Stanford University study on how a group university professors and students evaluated information online.

The participants focused on superficial elements of source sites, e.g., how it presented information, instead of looking deeper on what information it shared.

On the other hand, professional fact checkers armed themselves with at least three questions to evaluate sources:

  1. Who is behind this information and why are they sharing it?
  2. What is the evidence for their claims?
  3. What do other sources say about the sharer and its claims?

Answering these questions is not as simple as ABC, but it does provide an easy-to-remember set of 1-2-3 to evaluate what we read, watch, or listen to.

Near the end of the video, Green highlighted the difference between being cynical and being skeptical. The former is being “generally distrustful of everyone else’s motives” while the latter is being “not easily convinced”.

All of us could use a healthy dose of skepticism every day. The problem is that our bias might raise this shield when the information does not align to what we already know or believe. This is why asking the 1-2-3 regardless of source or our compass helps keep us in check.

John Green and co have just released part 1 of their Crash Course series on navigating digital information.


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If I had to sum up the takeaway from the video, it would be this: Just because it looks like a news article does not make it one. Appearances like layout, graphics, and slickness matter, but these should not distract from the quality and accuracy of the content. To determine those latter qualities, we need to investigate the sources of the article.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

However, Green mentioned a study by the Stanford History Education Group which highlighted how historians and university students focused on the superficial instead of digging deep.

Speaking of digging deep, I could find the Stanford group online, but not the documentation about the study from the Crash Course video page. Might Crash Course consider providing a link to such evidence and not just its main sponsors/collaborators?

CNN took a break from the Trump circus to focus on one ordinary person.


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The man at the centre of a social media storm was roundly criticised for grooming himself on public transport. A mad mob made judgements instead of finding out the facts first.

Some basic journalism revealed that the man had fallen on hard times and had been in and out of homeless shelters. He had just left one such shelter and was on his way to visit an estranged brother. He just wanted to look presentable.

Some from the mob apologised. A few started raising money for the man. The thing is: Could we not have skipped the mad mob and started with the caring crowd?

Common to both the mob and the crowd was social media. The same tool set that spread vitriol also focused on helping.

There are some people who still like to blame social media for our ills. Doing that is a convenient cop out. We are responsible for the tools we use and what do with them.

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In the first part of this SciShow video, Hank Green outlined a study that examined the link between social media use and ADHD symptoms.

Bottomline: No study is perfect and this one suffered from a reliance on self-reported data, reporting symptoms without prior baseline diagnoses, and correlational outcomes.

The last point was key. Green pointed out that the study could not prove that social media caused ADHD symptoms any more than the tendency of users with ADHD checking social media frequently. In his own words:

Using this study to say that smartphones and social media cause ADHD would be like looking at ER data and concluding that firefighters cause burn injuries.

The headlines highlighted in this tweet are why we need:

  • science and experts.
  • to be information and media literate.
  • to follow entities outside our bubbles.

Forbes and NASA have experts that are good at what they do. Both provided commentary on a shared observation. Only one was actually informative — NASA.

If we were information and media literate — collectively digitally literate — we would be skeptical of Forbes’ report and know how to investigate the issue. We would then find NASA’s version of the event and we would be able to evaluate what we find.

Operating outside our bubbles allows us to see what others see. Operate in the Forbes or entertainment bubble and we see only mystery or ignorance. Operate in the scientific bubble and we see more factual information.

That said, I follow You Had One Job on Twitter because it is funny. It is also provocative in that it helps me make critical connections. So while being digitally literate and sourcing expertise are important, it helps to first operate outside one’s bubble.

This excellent YouTube series on media literacy ends with the episode below.


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The episode focuses on what lies ahead. As it does so, it builds on what was stable, remains stable now, and will be stable in the future.

The future of being media literate is being skeptical. This does not mean that we cannot enjoy watch we hear, read, or watch.

It does mean that we do not take the easy way out. Being skeptical means being aware of our own bias and identifying the bias in media. It means establishing context and being critical “going in” instead of just reacting when “going out”.

For me reading some Facebook (FB) group posts is like feeding a morbid habit of watching train wrecks.

I can see them coming because they are guaranteed. The conversations (if they can be called that) are unpleasant, but I plow through anyway. Why? All for the single pearl in the mud trampled by swine.
 

 
By comparing what I do and read in FB and Twitter, I realise that the issue is granular control. I can choose who I follow on Twitter. I can only choose which groups I join in FB.

I can even block people in Twitter so that I curate the right kind of followers. This is not the same as muting people on FB as the control is finer and deeper in Twitter.

It is strange that the more verbose FB provides less granularity of control while the shorter form Twitter provides more. This starts to make sense if you buy in to this description: FB is where you hang out with family or friends. Twitter is where you learn from strangers. It makes sense to have locks on your front door, but not on the ones inside.

But this is where the description falls apart. FB groups are full of strangers who have a lot to say with very little sense. You need only examine any FB interest group with the lens of granularity to realise how this leads to breadth instead of depth.

By breadth I mean the reach that large FB groups have in transmitting information. By lack of depth I mean unsubstantiated rumour, baseless information, or knowledge built on weak foundations.


Twitter is not immune from these, of course. But you can choose who to follow and you can even choose who follows you. You can go for quality, not just quantity, and by doing so choose depth over breadth. As you reputation grows over time, you might develop reach and breadth.

Developing depth over breadth is a more responsible approach. I wonder if this is modelled and taught in digital and media literacy modules. If this is not, then learners just go with the flow of popularity contests that favour breadth over depth.


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