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hello Howard Rheingold today I want to concentrate on the skill and literacy of determining credibility of information
that you find on the Internet but I believe that the skill this literacy if you will is one of a set of literacies that everyone who uses the
internet particularly young people who are just starting out ought to know I've concentrated on five literacy so before i zoom in on searching credibility or
crap detection I want to situate this within a larger set of skills that everyone ought to at least be acquainted with before they get onto the Internet
but I've really believed that we've got to get beyond skills the skills is very much an individual attribute if you were
the only person on earth who knew how to operate a gun or or a fishing rod you would be tremendously empowered if you were the only person who knew how to read and write you would be quite
frustrated and possibly crazy so I think we need to go beyond skills to literacies and by that I mean my definition is skills plus community and
we're talking about social media here so I want to touch upon not not all of the literacies that are facing us but I think five of the the most important
ones attention the fundamental particle of all the other literacies participation we are all deeply involved in participation operation is something that I have
written and and talked about for a number of years critical consumption or call it crap detection in fact if you search on that you'll you'll find my article on it and what I'm calling
Network Awareness think all of these need to work together ultimately the fluency is not in a particular literacy but being able to to put these
literacies together I'm afraid that we as parents and educators have received a lot of material that's that's not very good information about child safety on the Internet
there's a lot of concern about people being molested by by predators on the Internet and it's something that we should be concerned about but the empirical evidence shows that Sonia
Livingston at the London School of Economics out of a million children five of them on the internet were molested by someone that they've been on the Internet and 50,000 were molested by someone in their home or their
neighborhood so if you're concerned about child safety issues as we all should be we would really do better to concentrate on the neighborhood and the home and when we're concentrating on the
Internet if we think about critical thinking about how to teach our children to think for themselves they're going to solve that issue of child safety they're not going to fall for false information
that a person may give them or they're not going to be easily fooled into believing and unhealthy information as healthy information but they're also going to be able to deal with a much broader danger and that broader danger
is that if we don't teach our children how to question properly the information they find on the Internet they are not likely to be able to tell the difference between good information and bad
information whether they're doing a book report for school they're trying to find out something about health they're planning a vacation any of the things that people use search engines for these
days the responsibility for determining whether the information that they find it's no longer that of the publisher but that of the consumer of information so child
safety yes is important I think that there's a broader area of child safety which is not letting them loose in a world of uncertain information without having the tools to determine whether that information is accurate or not
we're not really talking about something that requires a college degree it's it's not rocket science it's not calculus it's not even learning the multiplication tables it's about learning how to ask some simple
questions about the material that you find online and to determine an attitude towards everything that you find online that's going to require you to look below the surface and find out a little
bit more than what's presented to you I started writing about search and credibility and in my research came across this wonderful Hemingway quote in which he said what a good journalist
needs is an internal crap detector and I thought you know that's what everybody needs online these days I've really have witnessed the growth of the internet since the early days and like many I've
marveled at the extremely wonderful cornucopia of useful information that's available and like many have been dismayed at the the garbage the torrent
of bad information and I've thought about what can be done about that and I really don't believe that we either can or should try to control how people put
information onto the Internet we wouldn't have those billions of pages of information if we didn't have the freedom for anybody to put their their database or their paper or their their
collection of documents online to try to control it would really be a nightmare we really need to teach people a literacy a skill from the consumer point
of view of being able to determine the degree of credibility or accuracy on what they find online and I think that this really has been it's that go to ways there are internal
benefits and I think that there are benefits for the entire internet for the Internet as a common so to speak so the internal benefit is really simply this if you want to send your child or your
student out into the world of the internet and you want to equip them with the ability to use the information that they find there for their lives for their their schoolwork then you need to
help them learn how to determine credibility they need to know how to search and they know how to teach they need to know how to determine the credibility of what they find the better
they know that better your child or your student knows that the more successful they are likely to be it's just like in the olden days if you didn't have an education you weren't likely to succeed
nowadays not only if you don't have an education but if you don't know how to use the Internet you're going to be less likely to succeed so this is the internal benefit of crap detection or searching credibility if you want to be
a little more formal about it the essence I think what you need to teach your eight-year-old before he or she gets online are two questions and I don't think that this is a one lesson
education I think that this is a question or questions that we have to keep asking ourselves literally you can pluck out of the air some of you are
probably doing it right now the answer to any question if you know how to ask it so step one is knowing how to ask that question how to query the search engine but the second step is that
that's the tricky one how do you know what you find is accurate but I believe that the external benefits benefit to all this is very important there's the notion of the
Internet as a commons of a public good that's useful to everyone and how long is it going to be useful to everyone if it's going to be filled with urban legends and hoaxes and
pornography and spam all of the unwholesome material that we see online I think that if we can increase the number of people who are able to tell the difference between bad information
and good information we're going to increase the value of the Commons to all of us that instead of trying to do the hopeless task of trying to shovel with a
teaspoon all of the bad information that's been pouring onto the Internet if we can simply teach people to detect the good information pain less attention to the bad information to help their
friends because increasingly search and credibility skills or social skills to help their friends build personal trust networks to determine good information scientific information scholarly
information health related information information related to your social needs like where am I going to go on vacation where am I going to go on Friday night but I think that we're going to be able to improve the internet experience for
everybody and the capital investment and teaching people searching credibility skills crap detection skills is miniscule compared to the cost of building servers and and and creating
all of the physical infrastructure that the Internet requires so Howard I'm hoping that you'll tell us a little bit more about sort of the societal components of critical thinking in other
words if we had a perfect society where everybody was just completely sharpest acts and they go on the internet and they're not fooled by anything and they're shrewd evaluators of Internet information what are the things that we would need to have in place what kind of
technical tools or educational programs or what kinds of things will we need to have a critically thought-out society well I'm thinking that in the future as now we're increasingly seeing
three somewhat intersecting areas I've been talking a great deal about literacies and I just define literacy as a kind of combination of skill and social skill means I know how to read
and write but social means I'm also able to participate in the community of literate and and this goes for all sorts of literacies not just alphabetic literacy I think that we need to teach
certain credibility skills to people that that literacy which is essentially educational whether it comes from parents whether it comes from schools is an important and increasing component
but I think that that there's a a technological component an algorithmic component that the search engines themselves we are already seeing are getting better at providing tools that
will enable people to test credibility of some of the information they see for example there are nongovernmental organizations around medical information that provide plug-ins for a number of
different web browsers that detect when you are looking for health information and they can give you some kind of measure of credibility that a panel of experts may have about that information
so building kind of plug-ins to web browsers that help people give them not the answer but maybe help them focus a little bit more on better credibility is
one direction along with skills but I also think that there's a social component in that in the education world nowadays and we're talking about a world in which people are connected with each other through the laptops to their
mobile phones through the through the the internet we talk about personal learning networks to consist of other students of teachers of trusted sources who we follow we follow their bookmarks
on bookmark marking services we make me follow them on online services like like Twitter or Facebook or or others but it's a network of people who we come to
trust because they know something now they may know something about one particular field and we don't particularly have any degree of trust in their knowledge in some other field so it's really up to
the individual to develop who is in their personal learning network and I think that we should expand this to think of personal trust networks who do I trust to point me in the right direction about medical information or
historical information or scientific information to some degree that Authority has been vested in in texts and being able to determine the
credibility of a text that we determine online is important but also to some degree that's best in in in people and authorities whether those are teachers or experts in industry or people we know
who have particular expertise so if you think of these three pieces is kind of intersecting one of those Venn diagrams you've got the skills and literacies that come from educating people about
how to how to inspect information online and make judgments for themselves we've got the search engines are continuing to develop their ability to help us to
filter information to focus on information that may be more credible then we've got the social aspect who do we as individuals trust who do we turn to for information who turns to us for
trusted information the ability to develop those trust networks together with the development of those skills and the ability to use the continually evolving capabilities of search engines
I think that that's really where the future of search and credibility crap detection if you will is heading there's a sort of well-known example about a Martin Luther King jr. site that you can
put in the search for the famous civil rights leaders name and you will run across this site and I was hoping you'd walk us through a little bit about the sort of the crap detection thinking you
put Martin Luther King jr. into the search box you get some answers back some different web links or information what is the process by which you would go through to evaluate the
credibility of those sites what is your thinking about what students should know as they get the search results back well when my daughter first started using search engines and she came of age at
about the same time the web started coming of age and they had these new tools called search engines this was before Google several years before Google and I noticed that in addition to
going to the library and getting books out she was beginning to enter search terms into search engine so of course I sat down with her in front of the PC and
did some searches and explain to her that things had changed right then and there for her that the authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand
years had been overturned that you could go to library and you could take a book out and you might disagree with the book but probably somebody or several somebodies have been paid to check the
factual claims in that book but of course when you get something online there's no guarantee that it's accurate or even not totally bogus
suddenly the authority is no longer vested in the writer and the publisher the consumer of information even my 12-year old daughter had to become a
critic had to become a questioner had to inquire about the reality of the information that was prevented presented to her so if naturally she asked how do
I do that and I said well the first step isn't that hard you've got to ask the primary question who is the author and and what what other people say about
that author put that author's name in the search engine keep your your critical glasses on who are these people who are asking questions or who have opinions about
that author what are the author's sources who links to the author I even showed her how to use who is much easier to find out if there's not an author who
is behind that website now one of the examples I used as a site called Martin Luther King org it sounds like and looks like it's a site about the well-known civil rights leader but in fact it's a
site by white supremacists the deeper you dig into the site the less favorable Martin Luther King looks to you so here a couple of tools it's not that
difficult to look for an author but the author's name in the search engine you don't find an author use who is then use a search engine to to find out what you find out there so I think the first step
is to find out who's behind this the next step of course is to determine what kind of agenda they may may have is this person speaking for a an organization
that has a particular kind of bias are there terms that they use that would indicate a particular kind of bias look at their sources do they not have sources certainly in scholarly and
scientific and journalistic work someone presents a paper or an article or a news story and they don't have any sources for it then you have to really discount that because that that's good
journalistic scientific scholarly practice if they do have sources go take a look at those sources what do people have to say about those sources think like a detective you are on a little bit
of a detective hunt here you're trying to find out who is this person that's trying to tell me something what might they be trying to convince me what might they have to hide what do
they base their opinions on think if you do that detective work a couple of times you begin to develop an attitude of thinking like a detective online and I think this is particularly appealing to young children
it gives them an opportunity not just to be kind of the passive recipient of what is sold to them but they are active explorers of information they are active
detectives who are trying to get the story and I think that that's something that's exciting to young people and it's something that's going to end up being very necessary for them how do you go about teaching you know in the classroom
how are you presenting critical thinking skills and what are the methods that you're using well when you talk about critical thinking skills you're really talking about questions I think starting
from questions is the is the way to go students quite often come into a classroom assuming that the teacher has some knowledge that they're going to pour into their heads they're going to
take notes they're going to be able to regurgitate those notes come test time it really doesn't have much to do with engaging their active inquiry processes
so at the beginning of the term the very first class I take the themes of the eight or ten or or fifteen classes to come depending on whether I'm teaching a
quarter or a semester and I write those on the board I ask the students to look at the texts that I have assigned for those themes and I asked them to physically get up and cluster around the
whiteboard around the themes that that are the most appealing to them the ones the thing would be most interested in spending their time exploring and then I ask them to take twenty minutes and come up with what they think are the most
important questions to them to them personally to their society to their future to ask about those themes so I want em teaching of course about social
media for example their questions about community their questions about identity questions about the public sphere how does this all relate to democracy there's questions about social capital how do people get things done together
all of these forum themes and I want these two groups to start with questions and then each week I work with the students in my office hours before the class say how
can we provoke these questions in all of the students there are a number of different ways in which you can induce students to look at subject matter not
by memorizing it by asking but by asking questions about it you could for example use what they call the jigsaw method where you take a subject and come up with what are the five essential
questions that if you answered these and you can get a good picture of the subject and break up into five teams and have each team tackle that and then have them report and then I'll put that together
another method might be having five questions and put each of them on a whiteboard and then have the teams move from one whiteboard to another so that everybody tackles all of the questions
but they add on to and relate to what the questions that previous students have asked simply inducing students to ask questions is the beginning a culture
of collaborative inquiry is really the goal that's kind of a fancy word but what it starts with is simply saying here's the subject what are the most important questions to ask it's a very
different approach from here's the subject here's what you need to know about it there's a lot more to say about crap detection of course my article crap
detection 101 is a start I'm going to be working on expanding that into a book and a set of materials and I'm going to invite you and others to help me in
creating a public resource whereby strategies tools puzzles and tests that enable educators at all levels to teach
critical thinking critical consumption will be able to to provide support to anybody out there who wants to get the students started right
on the Internet
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