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EdTech Update





The tree octopus has moved to Facebook - and grown fangs

The Information Jungle

Research for most of us who finished our formal education prior to 1995 operated in an Information Desert. Those five or ten sources required for a research paper were tough to find in our school and public libraries. The final product of our information quest was usually a written compilation of information, often verging on plagiarism to fulfill an assignment that neither requested nor encouraged the creation of new knowledge or innovative solutions to real problems.

Today’s student who has access to online sources of information operates in an Information Jungle. A quick search using an Internet search engine can yield thousands of possible sources of information. Savvy teachers today are asking students not just find and organize information, but to do so to answer genuine questions, offer original solutions to problems, and communicate their findings using a variety of media.

While technology can be enriching, the Information Jungle and projects that call for the demonstration of higher level thinking skills contain perils as well. The role of the teacher and library media specialist has rapidly changed from one of a desert guide (helping learners locate scarce resources) to one of jungle guide (helping learners evaluate and select resources of value). This change has been so rapid that many educators have not had time to learn the skills necessary for their new roles. But for those who do, the rewards for doing information problem solving in the Information Jungle can be tremendous. Survival Skills for the Information Jungle: Information Problem-Solving Activities Are More Important Than Ever Creative Classroom August 2001

One of the more interesting (and entertaining) activities that librarians conducted with students a few years ago (and perhaps still do), is exploring the need to critically evaluate the reliability of online information by looking at "spoof" websites. Some of these which were purposely created to alert novice Internet users to the perils of online information include:

Good discussion starters for those moving from an information environment of carefully vetted resources (libraries and print publication with journalistic integrity) to, well, the Internet.

It seems our lessons did not take. To our detriment and possibly to the deteriment of our nation. While the ability to spot "fake" news on the Internet has always seemed to be a rather academic skill, it has almost overnight become a critical skill needed by every citizen.

No longer friendly, humorous sites created to simply raise awareness in the naive information searcher, today's fake news and information is malicious, attempting to sway public opinion and to influence elections and public policy.

"Media literacy" can no longer be that subject taught when there is time. Or only by the librarian (if the school has one.) ISTE NETS for Students (2016) plainly state under the Knowledge Constructor section:

3b Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.

Should we consider the ability evaluate information a skill that should fall under "Digital Citizenship" as well?


Well-worth reading:


How is our educational system failing our nation?

 The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate. Thomas Jefferson



On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. H.L. Mencken, 1920

Whether you are distraught or gleeful over the results of last week's election, I believe the results themselves can be attributed directly to the education (not intelligence) of voters. I have some concerns about the degree to which our school products (graduates) have:

1. Critical thinking and information literacy skills. Given a mass media that seems to skew heavily either left of right, personal fact checking abilities with the understanding of why these abilities are critical is imperative. Confirmation bias may be impossible to overcome, but schools need to give it a shot. (And yes, I am talking directly to you, librarians.)

2. Job skills needed for a changing economy. A number of post-election analyses have suggested that high unemployment and underemployment rates in rural areas were a primary motivation for votes for a regime change. The Obama administration did not do enough to establish programs for helping economically depressed areas of the country, including finding ways to re-employ those folks who lost their jobs to automation or out-sourcing. Not long ago I remember hearing that manufacturing jobs were actually going unfilled in Minnesota, but they were manufacturing jobs in precision manufacturing that require education beyond high school. People took a risk voting for an unsavory person getting them a good job.

3. Sound knowledge of how government works. Does one vote count? How much and what kind of power does the president really have? Can the Supreme Court be non-partisan? Hell, how do I register to vote and where? I keep wondering if people understood goverment a little better, they would be more likely to vote for the people who would actually represent them. 

In a very powerful post, David Warlick writes "We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so.  But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society. ... according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study, only 36% of us could name all three branches of government. 35% could not name a single one. Only 27% knew that two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate could overturn a Presidential veto. 21% believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court Decision is sent back to Congress. Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership."

I've been asking myself whether I should be writing in the Blue Skunk about politics at all. I am confused and have no source of information or inspiration that is remarkable. Yet, I feel the need to work this all out in my own mind - and you get to ride along. These words from Antonio Gramsci (via Tim Stahmer and Audrey Watters) make me less concerned...

I hate the indifferent. I believe that life means taking sides. One who is really alive, can be nothing if not citizen and partisan. Indifference is lethargy: it is parasitism, not life. Therefore, I hate the indifferent.

Indifference is the dead weight of history. Indifference plays an important role in history. It plays a passive role, but it does play a role. It is fatality; it is something that cannot be counted on; it is something that disrupts programmes, overturns the best made plans; it is that awful something that chokes intelligence. What happens, the evil that touches everyone, happens because the majority relinquish their will to it, allowing the enactment of laws that only a revolution can revoke, letting men rise to power who, later, only a mutiny can remove.

I am alive, partisan. And, therefore, I hate those who do not take sides; I hate the indifferent.



BFTP: May your trails always be crooked

"Inca Trail, Day 3," taken by Doug Johnson, November 2006.

The beginning of the school year, more than most, has been challenging. Any "new construction" be it physical plant, networks, digital resources, new positions, or new ways of teaching and learning requires some "crooked trails."

But I am beginning to see some most amazing views for our students and community.

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