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I am sad. This is the last episode of Crash Course’s series on Navigating Digital Information.


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This week’s focus was social media.

Host John Green started by outlining how social media has had far reaching consequences, e.g., shaping our vocabulary, changing our expectations of privacy, organising grassroots efforts.

But probably the most important impact of social media might be that it is now the most common source of information and news. This includes disinformation, misinformation, and fake news, all of which are easy to spread with a click or a tap.

The ease of creating, sharing, and amplifying is social media’s best and worst set of affordances. The affordances are neutral, but we can choose to bully and mislead, or make new friends and organise special interest groups.

Regardless of their purpose, social media are powered by targetted advertising and algorithms. Both affect what we read, hear, or watch in our feeds. This can create filter bubbles.

This insulation is a result of social media companies needing to keep us engaged. A consequence of this is that we might not get to process dissenting views or the truth behind the lies we are fed.

If we know what drives social media, we could take Green’s advice by:

  • Following entities that have different perspective from us.
  • Deactivating the recommended results or top posts so that you get a more neutral feed.
  • Avoid going down rabbit holes (deep dives of content or perspectives that result in more of the same or the extreme).
  • Exercising click restraint and practising lateral reading.
  • Having the courage and taking the effort to correct mistakes.

The week’s episode of Crash Course’s navigating digital information focused on click restraint.


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Click restraint is about not relying on the first few returns in Google search. It is about scanning, analysing, and evaluating the rest of the returns. It is not about immediate gratification but about figuring out the most valid and reliable sources of information.

Why exercise click restraint?

Searches are not objective. The search algorithms (rules) are shaped by us and the results are processed by us. We do all these based on our perspectives, biases, or bubbles.

How might we exercise click restraint?

By analysing the search results first:

  1. Scan the titles and URLs of the results for their sources
  2. Read the snippets or blurbs that accompany the titles or URLs
  3. Try to determine if the nature of the resource — opinion piece, satire, official report, etc.

This week’s episode of Crash Courses’s Navigating Digital Information focused on data and its visual representation.


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Data, whether represented by raw numbers or graphics, can seem objective. However, they are not neutral because people gather and interpret them. (As a former academic, I shuddered whenever I overhead colleagues talking about “massaging data”.)

In evaluating data, host John Green reminded us to ask:

  • Does the data support the claim? (Is it relevant?)
  • How reliable is the source of data? (Who commissioned the research and why? Who conducted it and why?)

As for data visualisations, Green reminded us to check if the graphic was based on real data (check its source) and that the data was transferred and presented accurately.

Another consideration specific to data visualisations like infographics is how complex phenomena are simplified in the creative process. This might sacrifice the accuracy of the data.

If we combine both sets of principles, we might be in a stronger position to evaluate the following example. Two organisations, used the same set of data to send messages on climate change.

Organisation A’s image is on the left and B’s is on the right.

Screenshot of graphs from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiND50qfCek&t=201s.

Organisation A had already concluded that temperatures were not rising globally over time, so it manipulated the y-axis to range from -10 to 110 deg F. Organisation B zoomed in a smaller range and the average temperature increase was more pronounced. B critiqued A’s representation as misleading.

Both organisations used relevant data that supported their claims. The data was sourced from a neutral third party (NASA’s GISS). However, the presentation was manipulated by A to obscure the trend.

My perspective: Seeing should not immediately lead to believing because the data might be selectively or “sexily” presented. The first is only sharing data that supports preconceived notions; the second is using elaborate or compelling-looking visuals to disinform or lie.

A side note: Have you ever noticed that “lie” is central to believe?

This week’s Crash Course’s video on navigating digital information focused on evaluating images and videos.


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Host John Green provided examples of how images could be used to represent and misrepresent both context and context. If it is easy to fool someone with text, it is even easier with images.

When presented with any image we might verify its context and content by a) seeking its source and determining its reliability, and b) searching laterally for its validity. If links or cues are not available in a suspicious image, we might use Google’s image search or Tineye to evaluate its worth.

How about videos? The principles are the same: Determine the veracity of its source, the reputation of its creator(s), and whether or not is was altered. It might be difficult to do the last item nowadays, but difficult is not impossible. What works for text also works for videos — search, read, and watch laterally.

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


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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.


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Part 5 of the Crash Course series on digital literacy focused on using Wikipedia.

Host John Green pointed out that Wikipedia was almost 18-years-old, and as it matured, was behaving more like a responsible adult.

Wikipedia has long policed itself with three guiding principles for editing articles:

  1. Content should be represented from a neutral point of view
  2. Cired research should come from published and reliable sources
  3. Readers and editors should be able to verify the sources of information

Despite these operating principles and research about the accuracy of Wikipedia [example], some still wrongly dissuade others from using it.

Green recommended that Wikipedia might be relied on for breadth of information and links for fact-checkin: Use it like “a launch pad, not a finish line”.

The depth of research and fact-checking could come from the hyperlinks from Wikipedia to other resources. One caveat: Resources are never perfect or objective because a) they were made by imperfect people, and b) they are used by imperfect people.

Wikipedia is not the problem; we and how we use it are.

In this week’s episode of Crash Course’s video on information and digital literacies, host John Green focused on the authority and perspective of sources.


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The authority of an author or a source might be determined by finding out about its:

  • Professional background
  • Processes used to create information
  • Systems in place to catch and correct mistakes

Authoritative sources do not guarantee that their information is correct all the time. When they make mistakes, they admit and correct them openly.

The perspective of an author or a source needs to be gleaned from its orientation, opinions, or analyses. Perspective colours choice of words and the direction of influence.


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