I can haz critical literacy?

Because right now, we don’t. In fact most of us are still trying to work out what literacy in the information age actually is, let alone practice it or especially teach it.

The first step is to accept that this is truly a different world to the one you grew up in. It’s not just like it was but with better phones. We have the collective brain, early¬†tricorders and skycars are under development. We have the ADHD attention span. Most important, for this discussion, we have independent mass publishing.

When you were a kid and wanted to know something you read it in a book or asked someone. There were occasional oddball books like Von Daniken, but generally they were pretty safe, in fact conservative. This is because books are a big investment for publishers so they are screened and vetted carefully. Then they have to be marketed, and the extreme fringe is, by definition, tiny. So it’s not worthwhile targetting them as your audience. As a further filter, you either had to shell out money for a book or get it from the library. Money is a great way of ensuring people think carefully about what they are reading, and public libraries have guidelines. That adds up to a lot of editorial layers making sure the book is reliable.

Asking someone could be more unreliable, especially because we are inherently more likely to trust people we know well enough to ask. But while in the past that could lead to pockets or lineages of ‘weird beliefs,’ it couldn’t usually spread far or fast, because you simply can’t reach that many people.

For me, the biggest effect of the Internet is the democratisation of information. I get my news through Twitter and learn from blogs. And I don’t mean the big commercial ones, why not keep an eye on my old field by following John Hawks? For educators, think of Teacher Tom or Dy/Dan out of hundreds of useful edublogs. And there’s the rub. How do you know which ones are useful?

Anyone can set up a blog. Design is getting easier, especially with so many themes already out there you don’t need to go for a premium or custom job to get something that looks professional. Hosting is everywhere and domains are incredibly cheap. For a hundred dollars, maybe two, you can look like a trustworthy professional organisation rather than a crackpot working alone in a grungy flat. And as yet there is no way for readers to check up on you, except by looking at the quality of your information and making their minds up for themselves. Which is easy if you already know something about the field, very hard if you don’t.

Which brings us back to those poor people looking for information.

Cue critical literacy

There are all sorts of skills that go into it to do with comprehension and spotting logical errors or inconsistencies. But one of the first things to ask yourself is

“Why should I trust this person?”

What clues are there, before you even listen or read, that tell you this person has good information –

  • Are they¬†publicly backed by an organisation such as a university or government department that would have checked it for you?
  • Do they have relevant qualifications openly displayed?
  • Is there an easy way to contact them and ask questions and do you get answers?
  • Do they link or direct you to other reputable sites that have that information?
  • Do they back up their statements with evidence or is it all their opinion (rather like this post)? And what is the quality of their evidence?
  • Can you find out how they have dealt with or answered people who disagree with them?
  • Are they urging you to do something, and who will directly benefit from that?

Try it –

I’ll do this blog for you, shall I?

  • No, it’s a private blog.
  • Yes, see that ‘About‘ tab up the top?
  • Yes, contact tab off to the left and open comments. You can see answers on some of the comments.
  • Yes, lots of links off to the right and within posts. However you would have to check if they are reputable, there are no universities or education departments.
  • Mostly opinion, it’s a reflective blog after all!
  • It’s a fairly limited blog. You could follow the links to Science@home, which I’ve mentioned in the About page has been going much longer. It has some controversial posts, but you would have to look around a bit to find them. So while it’s not impossible, it would require some digging.
  • Not really. Be what I consider a better teacher? Your students would be the ones to benefit, and they’re almost certainly not my kids!
So it’s relatively reliable with some caveats – it’s designed to clarify and record my thinking and make you think, not give you facts.
Try it on another site the next time you are looking things up, it can be a very interesting exercise.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.