Sunday, January 20, 2013

Google, Copy, Paste!

I love the State Farm TV commercial about the French model. A young lady believes everything she reads on the Internet to be true and ends up meeting a dubious guy claiming to be a model. I like this commercial because it highlights a real problem that our students face every day. Never before has knowledge been so easily available and our kids are bombarded every day with gigabytes of information. How do we as teachers help our students to become discerning consumers of information?
As an educator I have found the best way to deal with this issue is Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning engages student interest and motivation by designing activities around a real world question or problem. A well-designed project provokes students to encounter, and struggle with, opportunities to conduct meaningful, independent research. When research has to be undertaken online, I ask my students to use a simplified version of the CARS Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support). Even using this checklist however, the temptation for students to Google, copy and paste is great and when this is the path they choose they can often end up with a mashed together product that  provides a distorted truth.
I read a classic example of this kind of fragmented writing yesterday in the New York Post. In this article Lisa Nielsen, author of the Innovative Educator Blog, is heralded as a class clown. By copying a little piece of information from here, reproducing a snippet from over there, and topping it off with an image borrowed from somewhere else the author has created a misleading version of Lisa. I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa at the Microsoft Global Forum in Prague last November. She is a passionate advocate for students and for transparency. She has a mind that is open to new ideas and innovation and she invites examination and debate through her Blog and various Facebook pages. Far from using social media to encourage readers to flout policy, she uses them to inform her readers about policy and about their options.
Applying the CARS checklist to this article I find the author to be lacking in credibility, with no apparent expertise in the field of education. In terms of accuracy I consider the intended audience and question the hidden agenda. It also concerns me that there is no invitation to comment, to respond, to present an opposing view, therefore is it a reasonable , fair and balanced portrayal? With no corroborating websites or links, or any evidence of having communicating directly with Lisa herself , I would hope that a discerning reader could deem this piece as lacking the key criteria required for a source of quality information.
The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool but we need to help our students learn how to avoid the class clowns and the French models that lurk within it. My favorite kind of PBL includes research that is done first hand, when my students engage with local community experts personally and work alongside them to help uncover their own truths. By connecting our students with professionals they can learn the skills and methodologies employed in the real world and gain a deeper understanding of what meaningful learning looks like.

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