Critical evaluation of online information : Scaffolding the development of skills, strategies and dispositions with our students

A post from Bernadette

The Internet is a largely unvetted, open access media and is available to any individual to publish any information. In contrast, print-based media, with a five century plus start on online media, has a number of traditional mediators and gatekeepers, such as editors, critics, and peer review processes in place. The Internet has shifted the burden for quality control and assessment of information, in terms of accuracy, objectivity, credibility, and trustworthiness, onto the online reader. And frankly, the online reader is struggling with the task.

 

Research suggests that, in general, our students are struggling to realise that incorrect, false or misleading information can be posted on the web; rarely challenge the authority and reliability of information presented; are consumerist when searching for online information, i.e. find just about sufficient information to satisfy their information needs; lack prior knowledge to assess the veracity of information presented and detect hidden author agendas; and are often misled by the appearance of a website. An additional complexity with evaluating online information may relate to students’ abilities to draw on limited prior experience and world knowledge to assess and evaluate online information.

Critical evaluation of online information encompasses:

  • critical thinking skills a disposition for interrogating the text; evaluating arguments, and questioning content.
  • critical reading skills an ability to evaluate relevancy, accuracy and reliability.
  • critical multimedia information literacy skills a capacity to critically consume information and to separate the medium from the message.
  • critical literacy skills an aptitude to view information as value laden i.e information is not neutral.

Therefore, critical evaluation of online information involves an orchestration of a repertoire of skills, strategies and dispositions, such as assessing accuracy, credibility, believability, trustworthiness, bias, reasonableness, coverage, relevancy, currency and readability. Critical evaluation is also dependent on reader motivation and the situational context.   Using the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) we can guide our students to develop the dispositions necessary to evaluate websites by considering the following four strategies:

  • Scan Perimeter for Authority: currency, coverage, intended audience, reading level
  • Dig deeper for Accuracy: credibility, believability, accuracy, verification of informatio
  • Raise your Antennae for Details: perspective, bias, commercial bias, trustability, reasonableness
  • Scrutinize the Support: ease of use, design features, multimodal elements, grammatical errors, spellings, working links, and citations.

 

    In Using  Technology to Improve  Reading and Learning (Harrison, Dwyer & Castek,  2014) a sample lesson plan is provided where the teacher employs the gradual release of responsibility model to explicitly teach, through think aloud, demonstration, and modelling, the critical evaluation strategies and dispositions necessary to determine the accuracy, credibility, trustworthiness, bias, reasonableness, coverage, relevancy, and currency about  two websites related to Martin Luther King ( the controversial Martinlutherking.org  website and the official website, http://www.thekingcenter.org) . Following explicit instruction the teacher can guide students as they critically evaluate the information presented on other paired websites using the four critical evaluation strategies. Students work collaboratively to assess the reliability of the information presented on the paired websites. Later, they discuss and present their findings to the class group.

Scan the perimeter for authority Raise antennae for details of reliability
Dig deeper for Accuracy Scrutinise the support

Questions to guide students as they explore websites are presented in the following figure from Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning (Harrison, Dwyer & Castek, 2014)

critical evaluation

 Younger elementary students could explore the following websites related to Christopher Columbus. Ask the students to collaboratively  judge the reliability of information presented on both using the four critical evaluation strategies. Again the students present and discuss their findings with the class group.

Christopher Columbus fake

christopher columbus real

 

 

Using the four critical evaluation strategies, students in middle grades could evaluate which of the following websites is authorized by the World Trade Organization.

 

WTO real

WTO fake

Here are some other resources which may help our students to  develop the skills, strategies  and dispositions to critically evaluate online information and resources; or at the very least they may raise students’ antennae to the possibility that false or misleading information may be posted online.

References

Harrison, C.,  Dwyer, B., & Castek, J. ( May, 2014). Using technology to improve reading and learning. Shell Education Publications: USA.

Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

 

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Project Planning, the Common Core, and Technology, Too

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Digital Project Management Tools bring College and Career Skills Right into the Classroom

This weekend, one of my projects is to renovate the garden and put in spring vegetables. It’s up to me and my favorite nursery. All I have to do is motor on down to the garden center, buy what I need, and plant the seeds and seedlings. Other projects take a bit more planning, and digital tools can be a big help. Students often have a great number of projects in progress, and many of those involve collaborative work. Students work with students, with their parents, and sometimes members of the community. Teachers orchestrate much of the project management aspects, quite often. But, what if students could take on some of the College and Career Readiness Standards and learn how to manage their own projects?

Here are some of the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards that require collaboration.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

The Common Core State Standards in English-language arts/literacy emphasize the need, for the first time, for students to work together in a variety of settings and contexts and to use their literacy skills to get the job done. Assigning, selecting, or choosing a project is the first step. Managing the project so that work that is planned is actually carried out is where technology comes into play. Class projects last from a day to several weeks, and they range from preparing presentations to the class, making a digital demonstration of knowledge, or engaging in various service-oriented activities.

A project management tool that has been around for more than a century is named after the man who created it, Henry Gantt (cf. Clark, 1923). The Gantt chart has been used in the military, in manufacturing industries, live sports events (think Final Four) and in long range planning just about everywhere—including schools. Gantt charts are useful because they graphically show, “Work planned and work done are shown in the same space in relation to each other and in their relation to time” (p. v). Their visual nature encourages student project participants to develop a plan, stick to it, and note their progress over time. Digital tools improve Gantt charts by automating some tasks, making them easily available to project participants at any time, and being infinitely expandable. The use of color further improves the appeal and utility of the organizer.

Gantt project management organizers can be created with sticky notes on a white board or wall (Click here to see one example), on butcher paper, or with an 11 X 17 piece of construction paper. However, technology can greatly simplify the task. Typically, they show the tasks to be accomplished, who is responsible for each task, and a timeline showing planned and completed tasks. Excel® spreadsheets offer one digital solution to the Gantt chart that makes updating simple, and you’ll see that data entered in one part of the chart is translated visually.  Gantt charts can easily be created in a shared spreadsheet file such as those found in Google Docs, or with online apps specifically designed for this purpose (see figure 1), such as Smartsheet.

Smartsheet

Figure 1: Image courtesy of Smartsheet.

Online apps, such as Smartsheet, make it easy to share the chart on a class webpage, blog, or course management system. Parents can see it, students can edit and change it, and everyone will know who has to do what in order to get the job done and done well. Read more about project management tools for the classroom in this interview with Jodi Sorensen of Smartsheet. The company provides a free student project sheet for teachers to get started–log in and play around; it’s fun. There’s also a free teacher syllabus sheet. All those binders of curricular materials may be a thing of the past. One feature of Smartsheet I liked is the capability of linking other files (pictures, documents, and so on) right to the project organizer. See how this is done in this video on YouTube starting at time 0.36.

If you choose to use Excel or other spreadsheet software, you might find that templates for Gantt project management organizers are helpful because the setup is already done. In figure 2 you can see a basic template from Microsoft downloads, found here. Figure 3 shows a modified Gantt Project Management Organizer using Excel for use in upper-elementary and secondary grade classrooms, and you may download this template if you want to try it out.

Excel Gantt Chart

Figure 2: Generic Excel Gantt chart

Excel for School

Figure 3: An Excel Gantt chart modified for school projects.

Both of these organizers allow students to quickly enter data about what they plan to do, how much they have accomplished, and how they are proceeding. The neat thing is that Excel and other spreadsheets or software automatically create the timeline showing what is planned, and what is actually accomplished. These examples show a start date for the first of the month, but teachers can create their own templates just by deleting columns for dates that don’t match the timelines for completion.

Choose the digital tool you plan to use (e.g., Smartsheet, Excel). Next, train a few students, perhaps one from each project group or team, to be the expert on using the project management technology. The teacher should not be the only resource for using the tool.

Help students define the major parts of the task. In the example in figures 1 and 3- above, the teacher defined large categories as

1. Planning, Reading and research,, making it happen, etc.

or

2. Research, interviewing, and so on.

At first, students will need help breaking down the specific tasks for each category. A model the teacher creates or from past student project will be helpful in guiding students to decide just what the specific tasks might be.

Start the project!

In schools and at the university, we often engage students in projects of all kinds. However, students need to know more than what the project is and what its goals or objectives are. They also need the 21st century skills to manage large projects that will help them succeed in their schooling and in their careers.  Have you tried using digital project management tools, or even a traditional paper-based Gantt chart? If so, tell us about it by posting a comment.

Reference:

Clark, W. (1922) The Gantt chart: A working tool of management. New York, NY:  Ronald Press. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/ganttchartworkin00claruoft

Read more on this topic at the International Reading Association website. (added 3-29-2014)

Apps a Plenty, Apps Galore! Starting on an iPad App Adventure

I’m on the literacy faculty at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  Although I try to integrate technology into my teaching in thoughtful and creative ways, I don’t always succeed.  Typically, it’s due to lack of time, or the right hardware or software access, or the right know-how!  This month, the School of Education received a generous gift of 30 iPads to use in our Literacy Classroom.  My immediate reaction:  What a fabulous opportunity to explore how the undergraduate reading methods class and I will use this gift over the remainder of the semester.  So, in that spirit, my next few posts will focus on how it’s going, what I’m learning, and what I wish I never had to learn!

A General Web Resource on Teaching with iPads

Way back when (yes, all the way back to the 1990’s), I used to consult Kathy Schrock’s website when I had a technology question.  I was delighted to find that she has a special website dedicated to all things iPad related!  Whether you’re a beginner or novice user of iPads, there are things to learn from Kathy and the many educators who contribute resources and teaching strategies to this site.

http://www.ipads4teaching.net/

screenshot of Kathy Schrock's website on teaching with iPads

iPad Posts from Dana Grisham

And, for those of you working with young children, visit the recent posts from Dana Grisham about developing emergent literacy with iPad apps.

  • Recommended pre-school apps for literacy learning

https://literacybeat.com/2014/02/27/recommended-preschool-apps-for-literacy-learning/

  •  Goodnight, iPad!

https://literacybeat.com/2013/09/18/goodnight-ipad/

Essential Apps for our CU- Boulder Literacy Classroom

As soon as we got word that we were going to be receiving the iPads, I immediately began to think about “essential apps”.  Our budget was limited, so I knew I needed to be strategic in what we purchased (in a later post I’ll focus on free apps).

#1:  A Drawing App

To begin, I knew I wanted a drawing program to support multimodal composition. I knew that we would be able to use it for responding to literature with color, drawing, photos, and images remixes, as well as creating illustrations for the students’ original picture books and trying out the  ‘sketch to stretch’ reading comprehension strategy. I also wanted the drawing program to be one that could be used in elementary schools, since my goal was that the CU future teachers would first compose with the drawing tool themselves, and then apply it to teaching children.  After reviewing multiple programs and getting advice from teachers in our masters’ program, I selected Drawing Pad ($1.99).   It’s simple and intuitive, yet allows you to create some pretty amazing images fairly quickly!

Drawing Pad ($1.99)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/drawing-pad/id358207332?mt=8

Drawing Pad App logo

screenshot of Drawing Pad tools

#2:  A Book Creator App

My  second priority was to purchase Book Creator, another composing App that packs a lot of communication potential into a simple, yet powerful tool.   I knew my good friend and colleague, Debby Rowe from Vanderbilt University, was successfully using Book Creator with pre-school and kindergarten children.  Further, some Colorado elementary school teachers in our masters program tried it out in their classrooms last semester and gave it a favorable rating.  Based on these positive reviews and my own experimentation with a free version, I decided that Book Creator would be a good match for our needs.   It was more expensive — $4.99 – but it seemed worth it not to experience glitches that sometimes occur with a free version.

Book Creator ($4.99)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/book-creator-for-ipad/id442378070?mt=8

Book Creator logo

screen shot of Book Creator composing tool

Taking That First Step

So, with 30 iPads and two essential Apps, I am ready to begin the adventure of Ipad and App integration into my reading methods course.  I’ll let you know how it’s going next month.  I should warn you that I am a PC person.  I love my Apple smart phone, but am not nearly as fluent working on a MAC or an IPad as I am on a PC.  So, the learning curve will be steep and I’m feeling some anxiety about the process.  Ready, set, go!

If you have advice, suggested Apps, please post a response.  I thank you in advance,  Bridget.

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