Category Archives: Technological World

The Big Sift

THE BIG SIFT

Photo credit: Creative Tools via Foter.com / CC BY

Did you know there are 571 websites created every minute on the Internet? With over 300 million sites added to the world wide web a year, that’s a whole lot of information to sift through, and it’s getting tougher and tougher every year!

How should Teacher Librarians address the big sift?

Post-Truth Era

Living in a post-truth era with a severely weakened news media and a plethora of websites to wade through, finding good information can be like drinking from a fire hose. While it is important to guide students to appropriate vetted resources like the ones in virtual libraries including journal databases and encyclopedias, students are also getting their information from social media sites full of click-bait articles, and other emotionally charged bias-driven sources. Embedding Information and Media literacy into the research process is imperative in the preparation of learners for participation in a democratic society. It also is a key entry point for Teacher Librarians in instructional leadership.

The state of current News Media:

“When reorganisation and cost-cutting in this core area jeopardise accustomed journalistic standards, it hits at the very heart of the political public sphere. Because, without the flow of information gained through extensive research, and without the stimulation of arguments based on an expertise that doesn’t come cheap, public communication loses its discursive vitality. The public media would then cease to resist populist tendencies, and could no longer fulfil the function it should in the context of a democratic constitutional state.”

-Jurgen Habermas, 2007

The digital revolution and migration of advertising dollars online has had a direct impact on the jobs of journalists. The Toronto Star quotes the Public Policy Forum as estimating that one third of journalists lost their jobs between 2010 and 2016 in Canada and since 2010, 225 weekly and 27 daily newspapers in Canada have shut their doors or merged with other papers. This is bound to have quite an impact on the quality and breadth of current information our students are finding when searching for information on the Internet. Here are just some of the factors affecting “truth” in online current information.

“Post-Truth” Word of the Year

The 2016 English Oxford dictionary word of the year was “post-truth”. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

The term was selected after cries of fake news and alternative facts following the U.S. presidential election.

Fake News

Fake News is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via fake media news sites or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. Some politicians began to appropriate the phrase “fake news,” using it to describe news organizations that don’t support them. News organizations don’t write fake news, though they are not entirely immune to making erroneous reports. Sites like Snopes work to dispel fake and erroneous news.

Read this article by The Guardian’s Katherine Viner, How Technology Disrupted the Truth

Currency of Online Information

Though the number of websites on the World Wide Web hovers around a billion, 75 percent of those sites are inactive or parked, making it ever more necessary to check currency and validity of sites.

Filter Bubble

UpWorthy’s Eli Pariser coined this term in response to the personalization of the Google search. Because the search function adapts and personalizes returns, matching and ignoring them based on our generated profile, we are more apt to miss information outside that which the computer algorithms have deemed as relevant to us.

Participatory Voices

Skim the report Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online by Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis for an overview of how voices online shape information.

How are you helping students and teachers understand the issues around filtering for good information? How are you helping them build the skills necessary to find good information?

I addressed “The Big Sift” at the Bring It Together Conference in 2015.

Big Brother in our Schools

Courtesy of Nighted, Deviant Art
Courtesy of Nighted, Deviant Art

Did you know that all schools providing registered childcare in the UK use a Canadian-made Internet filtering system to deter children from becoming terrorists?

Good grief. Kindergarteners are plotting terrorist activities? How they fit all that in between fingerpainting, learning to count to 100, and taking naps, I’ll never know.  Sound a little extreme to be true? Check the news release on Waterloo-based Netsweeper’s own website. Thank goodness we haven’t gone over the edge of paranoia in our schools here in Canada.

According to the Cambridge Times, that same company, Netsweeper has offered “free” internet filtering to the Waterloo Region District School Board on a trial basis. This comes on the heels of a request by school trustees including Cindy Watson, Natalie Waddell, and Kathi Smith to hire “experts” in Internet filtering after one Cambridge couple complained their child had seen pornographic content at school. While I sympathize with the parents, I believe we may be treading in dangerous waters here.

Netsweeper is the same company Toronto’s CitizenLab discovered in 2011 to be blocking sites in Pakistan. Waterloo-based Netsweeper was hired by the Pakistani government  in an effort to block any sites that would seem blasphemous to a muslim-majority, as well as those featuring political discourse, and the news outlet CNN.

Normalizing surveillance in society leads to the eventual acceptance of blocking freedom of information and freedom of speech. That’s a direct hit to democracy.  Am I over-reacting? Well, that’s why I started this post with the story about the terrorist plotting kindergarten kids in the UK! You see, this is how it all starts. Yes, filtering pornographic and racist material makes sense. Of course we want to protect our children. But, we need to consider how best to do that while being cognizant of the short and long-term effects and trade-offs.

There’s always a cost involved when hiring “Internet filtering experts”. Besides the high potential for computer algorithms to inadvertently block perfectly innocuous material and affect access and freedom of information, companies never give anything away for free. We need to consider our children’s privacy as many of these companies are in the business of data mining, especially if offering free services.

So, what’s the practical way to deal with censorship and surveillance for the sake of our children? With 571 websites created every single minute on the Internet, harmful sites are bound to slip through the best content filtering algorithms. That’s why WRDSB teachers use a user-based monitoring system called School Connect where they are able to monitor students’ screens in their classroom. There’s nothing better than this. Teachers act not just as filters intercepting inappropriate content, but as guides and educators, they are able to interject and have a discussion with students about content. This is what we call “education” and “media literacy”.

Is it any wonder the Board has delayed its decision on stricter Internet filters? They’ve got a lot to ponder.

 

Evolving role of technology in Differentiated Instruction

culinary-fruits-front-view_lAuditory, kinesthetic, visual. Why is it that when we talk about differentiated learning, we so often focus on just the sensory aspect of communicating how we learn best? Applying Dr. Howard Gardner’s inventory of multiple intelligences towards differentiated learning and instruction adds another layer through manipulating interest-driven categories for the sake of engagement and identifying strengths and skills. This is all good stuff and we could all put our heads together and write a huge list of technological tools that would aid us in meeting goals of differentiated instruction on this basis. Heck, we could even Google it. But how else can technology be used to aid our various learners?

We talk about the engagement and input/output communication pieces in differentiated learning. But, we don’t always talk about differentiating the “processing” piece on the road to cognition. We see the words, “more time needed” under accommodations on IEPs, but this really just addresses the issue of speed and has little to do with key entry points of time during the learning process. This is where technology’s strength comes in. Besides holding various forms of communication (sensory included), technology’s brawniness is in it’s access, and access allows us to play with time. Instead of focusing on just the speed of processing, we could be thinking about how technology can help us manipulate “when” in the learning the differentiated aids for processing can step in.

The processing entry points we’re all most familiar with take place during and after the lesson, a carry-over practice from the late 20th century. I believe part of the reason why “flipped learning” has become so popular is because it addresses an earlier point of entry by allowing learners to “play” with the content first and make their own meaning and connections with it. Technology allows us to post content in an effort to initiate learning before that content is addressed in a face-to-face location. It also serves to lengthen the time of processing between learning stages by adding reflection time. This is a key strategy for some learners who may rely heavily on this early stage in the learning process for fuller comprehension.  It’s also worth noting that flipped learning could employ more than just posting videos before class. Remember, teachers are working to address all types of learners at various stages in the learning process.

How are you using technology to aid differentiated learners through these stages of process and reflection? If you use the flipped learning model, do you continue to use technology in differentiated ways through these stages to reach all learners? Would love to hear some of your stories.

Thanks to Carlo Fusco, Christy Wood, and Elaine McKenzie for challenging me to think more about technology’s role in differentiated learning while at the very recent Eduhop event in Kitchener.

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC BY

Death of the Narrative: A Radio News Perspective

Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)
Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)

This morning I am struck by a strong sense of time and narrative. Triggered by what, I’m not yet sure. Whether it’s because just this week I noticed a few grey hairs on my head, (for who knows how long; it just snuck up on me). Or whether it’s because my teenage daughter is now starting to fight with me the same way I used to fight with my mother, with a hint of condescension as if to say, “what the heck do you know anyway?-you’re out of touch”. Or, whether it’s the 1993 video veteran newscaster Dick Smyth shared this week of our 680News team in the early days of the first 24/7 news wheel format in Canada. I sense that it’s this latter scenario drawing me in, provoking a strong need to reflect on the perception of time, narrative, and what it does to the psyche. But first, a little background story.

In March of 1988 I was a high school senior partying in Cuba over Spring Break, living in the moment, not thinking too hard about what I really wanted to do after graduation. There were close to fifty other teens who came together from various regions in Ontario, all feeling the same way. We were escaping our futures, holding on to the moment, and to our youth. One of the teens from our small 10-member Niagara group would go on to embrace the future the following year, marrying a co-worker at her part-time student workplace. Still another would go on to serve in the Canadian military, dying 15 years later in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device going off underneath the Armed forces’ light armoured vehicle he was traveling in. But these were not the potential realities we were thinking about in Cuba. Excited by our new-found independence and celebration of youth as a collective group, we spent the nights drinking and talking, and the days sleeping on the beach.

One late night we let “living in the moment” slip. A boy from Cambridge talked about his plans to go to college for Radio Broadcasting. It was all I could think about for the rest of the trip. What was I going to do with my life? Shortly after I returned home, the sun melted the Spring ice and a TV crew showed up on our door to film my mother for a gardening episode on TVO. I got some advice from a young crew member and set my sights on applying to Ryerson and getting a co-op placement at the local radio station.

At CHSC, the afternoon news anchor and later, my friend Ed Eldred took a chance on me and sent me out to do a story on the tall ships that had sailed into the Welland locks. I found a young sailor who invited me to sit and listen to stories of his travels and description of what a typical day was like living on the ship. It is this first interview that remains ingrained in my memory, succeeded only by a handful of others including an interview with the sister of NHL hockey player Brian Bellows. A strong spirited survivor, Sandy wanted to reach out to other young women after she was raped and savagely beaten in the snowy woods by serial rapist and murderer Peter John Peters. She had lived because a retired police officer overheard her screams of terror and rescued her, and she now had a strong desire to tell her story. I held two pieces of ID up to the window while two dobermans sniffed enthusiastically at the cracks of the door before being let in for a 2 ½ hour interview.

I joined the 680 News team right after graduation. In fact, Dick’s video was taken on the day Jamie Munroe and I had to leave work early to attend convocation. With the fresh 24/7 news wheel format, we were now responsible for getting news out around the clock and by the second. I often think back on this time as the moment radio reporting died for me (though I continued to anchor off and on). Instead of meeting with people and really hearing their narrative, the immediacy of the new format largely forced us into gathering sound bytes with man-on-the-street and over-the-phone interviews. Since that time, other shifts have worked to reinforce its death. Our evolving technology has combined with our post 20th century desire to live in the moment, acting like a hammer hitting the final nail on the coffin of the style of radio reporting I fell in love with almost 25 years ago.

I do not mourn the passing of the radio medium as a major news source sent into the back corners, but rather the passing of a public’s narrative and with it the echoes of empathy heard through the recounted stories of those we connected with; those we took the time to hear. Much the same demise has played out on our 24/7 news television screens, turned by audience desire for immediacy and entertainment. Many of you may argue with me, citing the unusual full-length playing of Charles Ramsey’s step-by-step account of how he saved three kidnapped women and a child from confinement. You may say, “the narrative isn’t dead. They even played the full 2 ½ minutes of Ramsey’s interview this week during a radio newscast”. I can’t help but hope there is a fraction of the public seeking to revive the narrative, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s entertainment they’re after.

Sunday May 12, 2013 Update

More evidence that the narrative is taking a hit for the sake of its audience comes in the Toronto Star today with media analyst Robert Thompson saying, “Basic rules need to be taught, not only on consuming media but how people themselves use media in these completely democratized ways. And that would include a sense of ethics, even if you are not a professional journalist.”

The article is largely about how news outlets keep getting the big news wrong time after time with the pressure to publish first. Coincidentally, the Toronto Star obviously failed to re-read before publishing. Reporter Mitch Potter used direct quotations for a person named Bleier twice. However, Robert Thompson is the man who should have been quoted throughout. He is the director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture. The use of “Bleier calls the rush of…” and “said Bleier” shows that even the Toronto Star can’t seem to write an article on journalistic mistakes without making mistakes of their own.

 

Go Deep! Ask Questions Before Implementing Tech Resources

kevin dooley / Free Photos

As I skim educational resources and discussions on the web, I like that many of the conversations are changing towards thinking about purpose and ownership when planning tech integration. It helps us avoid implementing “novelty tech”, which I akin to clowns jumping around in the front of the classroom grabbing students’ attention. A checklist by Sue Lyon-Jones helps get teachers started.

But, after reading the chart, I still think we need to go further in our questioning when thinking about the purpose of technology in the classroom. We need to ask a whole other list of questions. I presented these at ECCO last year in my presentation about Google Docs. When thinking about integrating any tech, ask yourself:
How will the technology support…
media literacy?
digital citizenship?
social learning and communication?
critical thinking?
collaboration?
differentiation for learners who learn best textually, auditorily, kinesthetically?
assessment and marking (teacher, self, and peer)?
organization/management?

We also need to think about some of the inherent changes online tech brings to the classroom. Anything posted in a learning environment with 24/7 access helps students have access to reviewing and continuing work; it also ramps up transparency, which most certainly increases accountability for both student and teacher (think time stamping and the permanency of text in public spaces).

There are some subtler differences to pedagogy that are all wrapped up in the choice and use of a particular tech. Some of these may be hard to spot until you’ve actually tried out the technology or poured through someone else’s action research. These may include significant shifts in pedagogical teaching/learning methods. I really noticed this while using Google Docs. After asking permission from the 18 years olds in my classes, here are some of my findings.