Academic Skills, Research, teaching, Technology

Notes on Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection” Session at ISTE

Main Presentation:

Makes clear to his students that he is interested in learning from them.

  • Defining literacies that people use to find things online.
    • Attention; network awareness; critical consumption
    • All these literacies need to work together; are not normally taught in schools and students are not teaching each other these critical consumption skills.
  • Crap Detection phrase – from Ernest Hemingway –> phrase more effective than “critical consumption”. It is up to the consumers to determine the accuracy of the information.
  • Began thinking about this in 1996-1997. Coincided with his daughter’s research based on early search engines online. Typically used to publishers being the guarantor of the accuracy of the information that they publish.
    • Need to establish a protocol for evaluating the veracity of sources.
    • Key Questions:
      • Is there an author? Find out who claims responsibility for a website –> use, which reveals who owns the domain. Search engines usually based on popularity of a website, but this does not ensure credibility.
      • Find out what other people are saying about a website.
      • Who are the sources cited by the author? Do others who write about this topic cite the same sources?
  • Gives example of the Martin Luther King website run by Stormfront — a white supremacist organization.
    • Thinks showing these sites to students help them realize that everything that looks “real” isn’t necessarily real.
  • Contemporary example: BP is buying search terms that lead to sources that offer their side of the story.
  • Other examples of a free online pregnancy scanner — have to read the website closely and evaluate the tone of those who put the website out there. The scary part is that there are so many people who don’t look further into a website before believing its claim. –> (ex. of Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus; Hetracil).
  • New research – young people not totally credulous/naive, but they do fall for scams.
  • Wrote blog post on Crap Detection 101. Has now opened a new wiki at
    • Looking not only for faux-websites, but also looking for teaching stories and how people have dealt with teaching web credibility to students.
  • Does not believe that we should try to police the flow of information coming onto the web; however, it is no doubt that there is misinformation and disinformation, but also spam, porn, and other material that is becoming more legit-looking.
  • Two routes:
    • Internal component – Those who can do crap detection will be more successful at researching things related to all elements of their lives.
    • External component – Good thing to get more people to cast doubt on crazy claims and things that are too good to be true.
  • More skills:
    • Attention – true for laptop schools; WiFi just happened in the University system w/o discussion. Students do not realize what it looks like from the teacher’s perspective when students are immersed in their laptops.
    • New research on multi-taskers –> those who think they’re the best at multi-tasking are actually the worst.
  • Uses “probe” strategies with students — e.g. showing them what they look like when using laptops; allowing only five students to have laptops open; asking students to establish norms about how they use their laptops; going to ask students this year to write their own probes.
    • Wants to get students to develop their own internal regulation system for when they are splitting their attention.
  • Teachers have a huge opportunity to link young people’s interest in media with what we’re teaching. Young people have always tried on new identities for their peers; now they’re able to do it for their peers in a new venue online, but the general actions have remained consistent.
  • Media = more powerful because it can influence behavior, beliefs, values, etc. Gave many examples of ways collective action has been fomented and executed successfully via social media — e.g. anti-immigration law demonstration in LA; elections in Madrid; Chilean “penguin revolution.”
  • Network awareness –> now moving into “networked individualism.” No longer based on BBS or listervs. Now people are the center of their own networks via Facebook, MySpace, etc.
    • Important to have people know how they gather data and information via their own networks.
  • Teachers have a duty and opportunity for teachers to make connections between literacies students pick up by being young and those that are developed by reading and analyzing texts.
  • **Magnified importance of knowing how to learn without a teacher.**
  • Institutions not changing fast enough from the top-down to deal with the changes that are occurring. Best we can do is to work with each other to help spread the word. –> referred to the new wiki again. Encourages incorporation into teaching practices.

Q&A Session:

  • Question about parallels between teaching “crap detection” and teaching comprehensive sex education.
    • Teaching “media literacy” has been around for a long time, and has also been resisted for a long time. Opposed to having school filters on web; we don’t live in a filtered world, we need to learn how to be our own filterers.
  • Question re: Wikipedia
    • Worst place to end research; best place to start research.
    • Refer to the reference list and you’ll begin to see sources converge.
      • My own commentary: YES!! All about knowing the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and how they’re used.
    • Wikipedia exposes the process by which it is composed — greatest thing about it. Students don’t know about the “talk” and “discussion” pages or the “edit history.”
    • Students have tried to add topics and been deleted very quickly by those who are editing, so the enforcement of standards is very much present.
  • Question re: “how to” research done via YouTube
    • YouTube does not expose the process of how something was made; makes it harder to judge the credibility.
    • Can use the rough judgment of a video via number of views, the comments left by users, can also refer to other videos in the sidebar.
  • Question re: filtering of the internet and how student behavior caused the school to shut down Facebook access.
    • H.R.’s opinion –> set it up for the students to understand that access is available, but that their behavior is available for all to see; if their behavior is unacceptable, they may lose access –> allow them to understand beforehand that access is contingent on behavior.
  • Question re: how to deal with laptop access while lecturing.
    • Become aware of those dynamics; help students see how they impact their own education by dividing their attention.
    • Asks students to have a projected backchannel during class in a manner that is parallel to and supportive of what is taking place; sometimes hard for students to do, but students can learn to do this productively.
    • Gets feedback:
      • 40-60% of students recognize that multi-tasking in class makes them learn less and detracts from their education.
      • 40-60% say they wish that the teacher would tell them to shut their laptops and take a firmer stand.
    • Productive backchannels are not instantaneous; some students are better at backchanneling than they are at speaking publicly.
    • Any teacher’s prerogative to just shut it down, and sometimes that’s the decision to make.

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