Thursday, August 13, 2009

PRESENTATION (Diigo) - Groupthink: Expertise, Credibility and Truth

Clicking the image above will take you to my Diigo presentation, which attempts to foster media literacy among my students.

As my students are adult language learners whose objectives in my classroom revolve around English (rather than media) literacy skills, and as their use of the Internet for this purpose tends to focus on searching out useful sources for linguistic information and practice, I have to slide in media literacy skills on the sly to have the concepts addressed.

This is not difficult, however, when approaching the learning from a constructivist angle that focuses on generating dialogue rather than on imparting rules. When confronted with provocative ideas that challenge accepted norms, students tend to feel a need to express their own views -- and the more abstract the concept, the more abstract the language needed to articulate opinions and to negotiate towards some kind of classroom consensus.

As such, issues that are current and newsworthy are often also quite classroom-worthy, and within a mediascape replete with collapses in citizen confidence in the information provided by experts and leaders, the validity of received information is a hot topic.

The presentation above takes this context as a starting point. Using the new web-page annotating technology of Diigo -- which permits users to highlight, comment and discuss directly on any web page -- an online activity has been constructed that is part scavenger hunt and part semantic analysis.

Starting from a central web page, students are asked to tour through and examine selected online media sources and to reflect on the information they find there in terms of concepts such as expertise, credibility, truth...and groupthink.

Each web site visited on their tour has previously been annotated as follows:

  1. A speech bubble at the top of each site that, when clicked, opens instructions for that particular page, which include questions for reflection and discussion.
  2. Yellow highlighted text that draws attention to particular sections or language on the page.
  3. Blue highlighted text and images that, when moused over, open comments or links to other web sites for a questioning or cross-referencing of information.

This is an effective activity for language learners because it provides:
  • multiple pathways to multiple sources of information
  • the realia of existing web pages
  • intellectually provocative and controversial topics
  • avenues for expression of abstract concepts
  • an environment for social discussion
  • a multimedia mix targeting all four skills (texts for reading, discussion forums for writing, videos for listening and realtime [virtual] discussions for speaking)
The activity begins on a creatively constructed web site spoofing the New York Times and from there links to and through a real NYT editorial, a FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) media analysis piece, Democracy Now! (independant news and analysis) video, the Yes Men (political pranksters and hoaxters) web site and a PsyBlog (blog focussing on psychology) post on groupthink.

At each stop along the way, students are asked open questions to stimulate reflection and generate discussion in their target language. Assuming the students are also Diigo members, opportunities exist for them to leave comments and notes directly on the pages they visit, thereby building up a social network exchanging ideas around these information sources. They may also expand the activity by seeking out and adding to the network new or alternative sources of information in order to expand opportunities for critical thinking and dialogue.

Diigo also permits members to generate static versions (no live links, no opportunity to comment) of annotated pages that can be shared with non-members, thereby allowing non-Diigo-ites to view the existing annotations.

This is what I have done for the presentation above -- this means that, although you can see my annotations on the pages in the presentation, you will not be able to comment on them and you will have to copy/paste any hyperlinks into your browser rather than being able to click them. A bit cumbersome, I know, but it still gives you a good sense of how this technology can be used for web analysis, commentary and social networking in a classroom context.

And for me, it provides a creative way to blend some digital/meda literacy -- specifically, the ability to find, question and evaluate accepted (or not) sources of information -- into the language literacy that is my students' primary objective.

Please click directly on the image to begin the activity...and enjoy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

CMAP - Needs-based Literacies for Community Builders

Literacy/ies is/are (a) slippery thing/s, as shown by the lack of consensus on what exactly it/they consist/s of in the digital era -- not to mention the historical lack of consensus on what exactly a literacy is.

As for digital literacy/ies, although valiant attempts at mapping out all-encompassing frameworks continue (not without controversy), the final conclusion in this relatively nascent field still seems to be: come up with a model for your personal needs that works -- a feat that itself requires the metacognitive dexterity of digital literacy/ies to accomplish...and yet both are appropriate responses in the age of information superfluity and flux.

For me, the concept of literacy is intrinsically linked with power -- it is the knowledge of how to identify, access and use information to build economic and social power.

So, my definition of literacies (in the plural) is: What you need to have in order to understand what you need to understand so that you can know what you need to know in order to do what you need to do.

Confused? Hopefully you won't be after taking a look at the concept map above.

It breaks down the function of building an online community of practice into sequential steps and then attempts to map onto that sequence the necessary literacies involved at each step.

It goes without say that multiple literacies may be involved at any given step; however, what the map tries to do is define the dominant literacy needed to successfully complete each step and move on to the next.

I focused on the role of community builder because this is what I do, and the map represents my own literacy framework, but also because I think that the tasks involved generally represent skillsets -- and therefore literacies -- expected of new knowledge workers:
  • Cultural literacy
  • Research literacy
  • Tools literacy
  • Information literacy
  • Evaluation literacy
  • Communications literacy
  • Management literacy
I put this map together using Keynote, a PowerPoint-type application for Mac, trying to keep the visuals simple and the links intuitive while focusing on breaking down workflows, tasks and information needs.

As with all my concept maps, the hard part was having to define and categorize what I generally do intuitively and holistically. And of course, that was the value of the exercise, which has left me with not only a clearer understanding of my own digital literacies (and lack thereof) but also a nice digital product that I can now repurpose into my work.