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Tuesday
Oct182005

Who You Gonna Trust?

There is an old Richard Pryor routine in which a woman catches her husband in bed with another woman. The husband’s quick response is “Who you gonna trust – me or your lying eyes?”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about determining the authority of information. It’s the fault of Tim Wilson, Technology Director for the Hopkins (MN) schools, and the owner of The Savvy Technologist blog. During a workshop he gave at our MEMO conference last weekend, a collective gasp of horror rose from the throats of many librarians when they heard him explain that Wikipedia gets its content through reader/user contributions, rather than established “authorities.”

Joyce Valenza in her Never Ending Search blog entry, Something Wiki this way comes , examines the Wikipedia phenomena, interviews its creator Jimmy Wales and offers some thoughtful insight on guidelines for student use. (Read it!)

Authority is an interesting concept and one we probably don’t think hard enough about ourselves as professionals. I have to say, I am growing less enamored of traditional “authorities” all the time and depend more on the “lying eyes” of folks with real world experience about the things I investigate.

This started when looking at a recommendation for resort to stay at in Mexico one Winter break. When I could find little about resorts in the “authoritative” sources like Fodors and Frommers, I turned to the web and chanced upon TripAdvisor.com, a site that features reviews of hotels written by people who have actually stayed in them. There are half a dozen or more reviews of any one place. This often have a range of opinions and experiences, but interestingly also some sort of consensus about service, cleanliness, and value. And the reviews tend to be current. My experience has been that TripAdvisor does a good job of estimating the size of cockroaches one might expect to find. (Uh, much to the Luckiest Woman in the World’s dismay, we rarely go 4-star.)

I’m finding I trust book reviews on Amazon rather than those in the newspaper. I read lots of user reviews of technology when I last purchased a digital camera. Increasingly it seems, the views of average schmucks whose tastes and abilities are closer to mine more valuable than the professional geeks, gurus, and critics.

This has been bleeding over into professional practice as well. In a number of areas, so-called “best practice” seems to be directly at odds with the views of practitioners. The reading experts are not fond of Accelerated Reader, but librarians and classroom teachers often love it. AASL despises “fixed” schedules, but those in such schedules write to me en mass defending the arrangement. There is often a disconnect between the purists at ACLU and those who face privacy issues in schools. (The ACLU cannot seem to bring itself to acknowledge the custodial responsibilities of educators.) What often sounds so good in theory, is often quite different in practice.

So back to Wikipedia. Do we trust it or not? Should we allow kids to use it or not? Quite honestly, I am still thinking about it and will probably double-check the information I might find there into the foreseeable future with another source or two.

Joyce offers the following:

In the face of information glut, we are faced with new decisions about the very nature of knowledge and authority. When does it make sense to use Wikipedia, other wiki projects, and blogs as information sources? When might it be best to use other sources? What do your teachers expect in terms of authority in a bibliography? How do the edit histories reflect the quality of the articles?

Pretty good questions. How do you guide your students?

Monday
Oct172005

Excuses, excuses

miles.jpgWhy I haven’t gotten much written lately: Miles Benjamin Roberts. Striking resemblance to his grandfather, yes?

Tell me what it is exactly about these small creatures with the wise, bright eyes that so completely capture one’s heart on the first touch? How do they get that commitment that no effort is too great, no cost too high, no sacrifice too hard to protect and nourish such a little soul?

I want to say to everyone, please make the world a nicer place for my grandchildren and yours. One little smile (possibly gas) and Miles has a grandfather who would move the world for him.

Saturday
Oct152005

Reading Truths, Keynotes and More Books

One of the big anxiety producers for conference planners is picking keynote speakers. They are a big financial outlay, and more importantly, a speaker can set the tone of the entire conference. Imagine my dismay on opening an e-mail from one our local media specialists just after I had announced that Dr. Jeff McQuillan was one of our keynoters for this fall’s conference:

Doug - I hear you are going to get this speaker for the 2005 Memo Conference in lieu of Krashen–Jeff McQuillan. Have you lost your mind!!

My heart dropped. But then I read on…

This man is spoiled little brat!! Well–I might be a little biased –he is my youngest brother. Hmmm, I could provide some very interesting details on that speaker — maybe even get people to stay for the Saturday session……. He is a native Minnesotan, but because he grew up in the inner-city of St. Paul among exclusively Irish Catholics, he won’t understand all your outstate Scandahoovian schtick!! I have tried to enlighten him among other family members over my last 21 years living here–but they are so provincial!! His biggest fear is that his 10 siblings will all show up and heckle him from the front row…..oh that would be sad……but most of them are too cheap to spend the gas money to travel to Mankato! Seriously, any dirt–I’m the one to turn to!! - Kathy

As it turned out, Dr. MQuillan was introduced by his sister this morning (dirt and all) and none of the other siblings showed. Dr. McQuillan was terrific - presenting a refreshing view of the so called “literacy crisis,” why test scores rise and fall, and the importance of good libraries to reading achievement. A great opener for our “reading” day.

After two weeks of what seems like constant conferences, (AASL and MEMO), I now have nearly a bookshelf full of professional “must-reads.”

The first is Dr. McQuillan’s book The Literacy Crisis; False Claims, Real, Solutions in which he elaborates on this morning’s themes.

The second, of course, is yesterday’s keynote speaker David Warlick’s book Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy.

The third, is Frances Harris’s I Found It On the Internet: Coming of Age On-line. .

I’m looking forward to reading all of them. Book reports to follow…

What are the educational “must-reads” that should be on our book shelves?

May all your keynoters be as informative, entertaining and inspiring as Mr. Warlick and Dr. McQuillan. And don’t believe everything that their sisters may have to say.