Category Archives: 21st Century Skills

Digital Citizenship in Action

There is no place like Facebook to find lessons in how to navigate a world where “truthiness” abounds.  Tonight’s suspicious share revealed that it was the Syrian rebels, armed by Saudi Arabia, that were responsible for the gas attacks. The link went to the MintPress News website and two reporters were listed as the writers: Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. The article starts with the caveat that Gavlak was not on the ground in Syria but worked with Ababneh who did the interviews. We further learn that Gavlak is a writer for Mint Press who has freelanced for the Associated Press.

From there, the story has been picked up by other “news” sites including antiwar.com, inforwars.com, and Voice of Russia. No mainstream news outlets have reported the story. By the time it has made the rounds, Dale Gavlak is identified as “associated press reporter” and the reader has to scroll way down to find out that Gavlak has done some consulting for the AP but was not writing this article for the AP. In another version of the story, MintPress is now part of the Associated Press:

Gavlak is a Middle Eastern journalist who filed the report about the rebels claiming responsibility on the Mint Press News website, which is affiliated with AP.

Truthiness continues when identifying other sources:

Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.

The implication is that Doctors Without Borders is making the caution. Thus, a link to a well respected organization. Here’s the press release with no mention of cautioning interviewers.

A Google search shows this article as part of the “news” section at the top of the page with a link to the MintPress News website. It is the only version of the story, which should be a heads up to readers. It might also be telling that the Daily Kos deleted the article.

There is, of course, the possibility that the story is true and the mainstream news is simply taking the time to vet it before reporting. However, knowing their propensity for beating others to the punch, I would imagine that at least one of them would have hinted at it by now.

With more and more people getting their news from outlets like Facebook, the possibility for spreading truthiness grows. As Julie Andrews comments on the Unofficial Facebook Blog:

People are getting more breaking news than ever, sometimes as it happens, thanks to rapid-fire social networks such as Facebook. Often, such reporting is produced (or, uh, posted) by unofficial news sources (the reality is that anyone can report a sighting, an event, a comment heard), as the distinction between what is, and what is not news, grays.

I disagree when she suggests that this isn’t a death knell for the news:

To be clear, it’s not the news that is dying here — it’s the method in which news is delivered and received. Knowledge is and will forever be power. We just may not need to tune in to have someone read it to us much longer, no matter how fabulous their voice and hair are.

Knowledge only comes to those who can apply critical thinking to the news that gets posted by friends and families. If all you do is read the headline posted by your favorite uncle and then click like or share, you are becoming part of that gray area. Somewhere, Walter Cronkite is weeping.

Using Evernote for Everything

I’ve been using Evernote more and more these days to organize the various projects I’m working on. The summer travel season is upon me, and I’ll be away more than I’m home for the next month carrying different devices on each trip. I’m scrambling to make sure I can get access to information no matter what digital device is sitting on my lap.

Evernote is rapidly becoming the answer. I’ve used it for my own writing and to do listing but in the past month, I’ve been doing more clipping, note taking at meetings, transferring hand written notes, etc. etc. And today I learned why it’s such a great tool for me…because, according to the CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, I have a poor work-life balance.

At any given moment of the day, I may have tabs open related to “work” (articles or blog posts about education, technology and learning) or “life” (articles or blog posts about beekeeping, reading, farming, music and folk art). And increasingly I’m using Evernote to save or organize that information. I’ve gotten serious about creating folders and useful tags. I’m using the image feature to take pictures of slides during presentations. I’ve connected Evernote to my calendar so appointments and reminders get saved there. One stop for my life in all its aspects.

Getting Some Perspective

It seems we cannot blame social media for the shoddy performance of news outlets last week. They’ve always done a poor job with breakout news, at least according to Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. His description of the reporting of John F. Kennedy’s assassination includes lots of similarities to the Boston bombing from identifying innocent people as suspects to declaring arrests when none had occurred.

The difference, of course, is the ubiquitous nature of media in our lives. Sabato points out that most people were at work or school when the shooting occurred and wouldn’t have had access to the news. So, they missed the initial erroneous reports. I think, however, that Sabato misses the more crucial difference: the people who heard the erroneous reports could only spread them so far…perhaps over the back fence or by telephone to a friend. They couldn’t tweet and retweet and like and share, editing along the way to fit into 140 characters, or creating their own false reports that were then picked up by the media as truth.

I think Sabato offers sound advice:

Media gaffes and goofs should not be easily excused, since commendable restraint — occasionally, simple silence — is the obvious remedy. There should be a penalty for a big error, even if it is only severe criticism.

A simple statement: “here is what we know for fact and here is what we’re still checking out” would help give viewers perspective as they navigate the chocking flow of information. It allows news outlets to have it both ways: report the hearsay but make sure everyone knows it for what it is.

Thinking About Media After the Marathon

I’ll start by thanking Chris and Melissa Bugaj for re-energizing my enthusiasm for podcasts. I used to listen to lots of podcasts but, for some unknown reason, stopped. Maybe it was just media overload, or switching to iOS from Android. After participating in the recent VSTE webinar (scroll down to find the archive) on integrating audio in the classroom, I installed the Podcasts app on my phone and iPad and added a few podcasts to my library.

On of my previous favorites had been On The Media, a program sponsored by WNYC. Brooke Gladstone takes an engaging, reflective approach to the workings of the media, often interviewing journalists involved in the week’s news about how and why they did the things they did. Not surprisingly, this week Brooke focused on the Boston Marathon bombings and the somewhat shoddy performance of the media in their seeming willingness to abandon long established principles such as confirming stories with multiple sources in order to beat others to the story. They reported erroneous information rather than wait to make sure it was correct because if they got it right, they would be heroes and if they got it wrong, they could just blame fluidity of the situation. That excuse ignores the important role of the formal media in our live: we rely on them to get the story right before they tell it.

But, there seems to be a very fuzzy line these days between journalists and bloggers and tweeters with journalists being lured away from their role as the nation’s fact checkers. Reporters are monitoring police dispatchers and, according to On The Media, those dispatchers were actually monitoring Twitter and reporting on things they heard. It became a closed loop where no one was doing any fact checking at all.

And, of course, there were the fake twitter accounts from the bombers that immediately got reported as real messages.

The program is worth a listen and, I hope, will prompt discussion about the role we all play in the exchange of information. Meanwhile, Slate offers some good advice about what to do the next time there is a breaking story. I’m planning to finally read Proust.

Advice to Newbies

I am in the midst of teaching an online course that focuses on educational technology for school administrators. While the focus of the course is educational technology, it is not a “tech” course. The participants do explore various technologies, but the main conversation is about how administrators can support the use of technology. The course is centered around the NETS-A and we move from visionary leadership to professional learning to systemic improvement in the course of the semester.

Many of the participants do not consider themselves technologically savvy and the course is their first online experience as well. I do a lot of hand holding at the beginning, and for some, throughout the semester, as they struggle both with the content that asks them to reconsider much of what they think about education and technology, and the technology itself. I do some scaffolding by way of screencasts of how to navigate our course in Google Sites, and I am always available to answer specific questions as I make it clear to them that they aren’t being graded on their ability to use technology.

Still, they feel overwhelmed. Their first assignment is to choose a technology and create a tutorial designed for school leaders. After reviewing her classmates’ work, one student commented on how much she loved Voice Thread and then wondered why she didn’t learn about it sooner. Another was determined to learn everything about all the new technologies that were introduced. Yet another despaired of every being more than an immigrant, unable to understand the new language and culture.

I give all of them the same piece of advice: there’s a lot of technology out there and more is being added every day. That’s the way it is going to be from now on. So, get used to always feeling behind. Give up trying to learn about all of it, but position yourself within a professional learning network that at least helps you build awareness of new trends and offer support for your learning efforts. Then, consider your needs as a teacher or administrator, and find one or two technologies that support those needs and learn all you can about them. Are you responsible for professional development? Then, maybe Google sites is a good tool for creating a shared space. Do you feel like you need to communicate better with all your stakeholders? Then, maybe you should explore how Facebook and Twitter could help with that outreach? Do you have lots of technology in your school but not much integration? Then, maybe it’s a model like TPACK that can help support your efforts.

And, when you discover a new-to-you technology like Voice Thread, don’t wonder why it took you so long. Instead, embrace it, learn about it, and be reassured that an “older” technology likely has more staying power so you won’t be facing its loss in a few weeks when the company goes under.

Finally, learning one technology in depth will support your adaptive learning as you will become more familiar with technology in general and the next time you’re facing a new program or tool, you’ll be better equipped to dive in.

What advice do you have for these newbies?