Digital Literacy Does Not Mean Critical Thinking

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Recently, in “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability to Tell Fake News from Real, Study Finds” (23 Nov. 2016), NPR reported that Stanford University researchers were shocked to learn that students are unable to distinguish real news from fake, ads from articles. The researchers collected and analyzed data from 7,800 middle school, high school and university students. The participants were from 12 states and were asked to evaluate information from various online sources such as tweets and articles.

The researchers’ “surprising” findings highlight that many people assume that young people are technology savvy because they can use their mobile devices and social media with seeming ease. However, their inability to use technology effectively is reflected in the results of this study. The students generally accept what is presented to them without questioning the validity or the bias. They accept it at face value.

I would hazard a guess that if the same study were done with any group of Internet users, the results would be equally as shocking. Rather than assuming that students or any users of technology and social media understand and are analyzing what they are seeing, our concern should be the quality of their digital literacy, their ability to read critically and not just accept everything without question.

The researchers propose that students and all other Internet users should be trained to read like fact checkers. They need to learn to not just read what is on the page but understand what it connects to. However, educators who work with and study technology use suggest that this is not enough.

Nik Peachey

Nik Peachey

Nik Peachey, for example, in his recent book, Thinking Critically Through Digital Media (2016), talks about how students are generally taught how to work with information through passive engagement. He suggests developing digital literacies, including understanding and analyzing what they are seeing.  They need to “assess the validity, credibility and underlying bias of the information they study” and be “given a range of research tools and techniques for reassessing the information and evaluating how it fits within their personal framework of belief systems and values.”

The International Literacy Association also addresses this issue in “Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both” (3 Feb. 2016). The author, Maha Bali, points out that teaching digital skills needs to be embedded in authentic contexts so that learners are also becoming digitally literate. She states that “digital literacy is not about the skills of using technologies, but how we use our judgment to maintain awareness of what we are reading and writing, why we are doing it, and whom we are addressing.”

Respondus and Sakai: The Answer to Online Quizzes

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

You’ve been using a course management system (CMS) for your courses, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re completely online, completely onground, or somewhere in between. The CMS has some advantages, and you’re making use of them. If you’re like me, then you’ve also toyed with the idea of putting quizzes online.

It makes sense. It frees you from the drudgery and loss of class time associated with paper ‘n’ pencil tests. Students can take the quizzes on their own time, 24/7, as long as they complete them by a specified date. You can set it up for mastery learning so they can take it as many times as they need to before the deadline, with only the highest score being recorded.

Scoring is done automatically, instantly, and the scores are recorded in the gradebook automatically, too. Students can log in to check their scores. You can log in, too, to look at their scores. Sounds great – until you actually tried to set up a simple quiz and found the klutziest interface in the world. So you remained with paper ‘n’ pencil or did away with quizzes altogether and replaced them with discussion forums geared to readings.

But the problem of students refusing to complete required readings unless there’s a quiz attached to them persists. The top third of the class will do the readings, but the rest will wing it. It hurts their performance, but they can’t or won’t make the connection. For these students, reading is a means to avoid the pain of flunked tests, not a means to learn, to improve performance.

So I returned to the testing function built into our Sakai CMS. It’d been a few years since I last tried it. Maybe it’d gotten better. But after a few minutes of poking around in it, I found it was just as klunky as ever. After rooting around for a bit in our university’s IT help files looking for a miracle, I found something called Respondus.

Respondus is an app. Our university system provides it free to all faculty. Yours probably does, too. The IT help page provides a click-here trail that leads to the site, followed by a download and set up on your computer’s desktop. Click the new icon, and, voilà, your test and quiz creation woes are over.

Respondus is a relatively simple to use test development app. It allowed me to create a ten-question multiple-choice quiz quickly and, dare I say it, naturally. This is done outside the CMS — which at once explains the ease of use and highlights the shortcomings of CMS environments.

After you’re done, the next step is to get the test into the CMS so your students can take it. The process is logical. You need to convert the quiz into a format (QTI) that Sakai can understand. Respondus does this for you when you click on the button to “Preview & Publish.” It walks you through a few steps and creates a folder where you want it. I chose the desktop. In the folder is the quiz file in the required QTI format.  Continue reading

CFE 2015 Faculty Showcase at UNC: ‘Teaching Less in More Depth’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) Faculty Showcase at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This event is indispensible for those who want to gain a concise overview of emerging trends, proven approaches, best practices and innovative experiments in Carolina. CFE organizes the gathering to offer faculty an opportunity to learn more about specific instructional techniques or technology from their peers. For many attendees, showcase talks are the spark that ignites interest in considering changes for courses they teach. It also serves as a reminder for faculty to make use of the many instructional design and pedagogical consulting services the campus has to offer.

The day provided a chance to hear firsthand about the capabilities of the University’s Makerspaces, how teachers use Google Earth’s Liquid Galaxy display and Lightboard, which is currently being built on campus. What makes the showcase an exceptional learning opportunity for instructional designers is the mix of cutting edge technological innovation and low- or no-tech tips and tricks – be it gender neutral language, better writing assignments, role-play or reflective teaching practices and course evaluation. The showcase event closed with a presentation format I particularly enjoyed: Five-minute-long introductions to a variety of topics and projects with the explicit invitation, “Steal my idea!”

mary-huber 2The keynote speaker, Mary Taylor Huber, consultant at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, characterized the CFE event as the “greatest illustration possible” for the theme of her talk, “Building an Academic Commons Through SoTL.” Huber stated that the relationship between teaching and the institutional environment has changed noticeably over the past decade. Teaching is increasingly recognized as a valued academic activity in both general public debates and in the scientific communities. “Teaching is on a fast train,” explained Huber, and pointed out several catalysts for change: diversity, technology, new pedagogies (i.e., undergraduate research, service learning), authentic participation and educational research. Throughout the day, many examples of exceptional teaching brought these concepts to life.  Continue reading

Poverty, Reading, and Technology

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

In his article “Technology Holds Promise for Students With Poor Vocabulary Skills” (Education Week, 23 July 2015), Steven L. Miller argues that technology offers one solution for creating individualized learning experiences for students to develop better literacy skills.

Miller’s premise is that children, especially from impoverished backgrounds, also come to school with impoverished language skills. He asserts that “children with lower vocabulary skills are often poor readers, so they continue to fall further and further behind in academic language and cognitive skills.”

While Miller’s article offers an effective solution to the problem of building vocabulary and consequently literacy skills, we have to be careful about generalizations regarding students from low-income or poverty situations. He bases his argument on research demonstrating that they hear more negative communication while students from professional families hear more positive and encouraging communications.

However, there is a broader range of research on the impact of poverty on learning, showing that while communication may be one aspect of literacy development, there are other factors such as poor nutrition and inadequate healthcare.

Regardless of the causes, education and educational technology can, as Miller states, help students with poor vocabulary skills. For example, he says:

Using speech-recognition software … students receive one-on-one guidance and real-time feedback from an unbiased listener as they read aloud. Using this approach, students can improve their reading grade level by up to 50 percent more than the students who only receive classroom instruction in the same time period.

Miller’s article is based on Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley’s 1995 study Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. For a summary, see Hart and Risley’s “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3”  (American Educator, spring 2003).

Making Literacy More Personal for Kids

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Research has shown that a key to developing language skills, for the native speaker and for the English language learner, is reading. A home filled with books is a home filled with readers. That was certainly the case in my experience. My first “literacy” memories are the favorite stories that my father, very patiently, told me over and over and over. One of my earliest “reading” memories is going to the library with him and selecting my own book to read, Horton Hears a Who. Of course, I couldn’t read it myself, but it was “my” book. As I became a reader, I started acquiring books, some of them through a children’s book club. I remember how excited I was when “my” book arrived in the mail.

Susan Frey, in “Study Says Reading Aloud to Children, More Than Talking, Builds Literacy” (EdSource, 8 July 2015), focuses on a research project by Dominic Massaro at the University of California. Massaro says that “[r]eading aloud is the best way to help children develop word mastery and grammatical understanding” because the written word tends to follow these conventions more closely than speech. He goes on to say that we tend to be lazy when we speak using simplified forms and vocabulary.

Then, in “Making Reading Your Own” (Language Magazine, Sep. 2015), Todd Brekhus makes the point about the importance of “making literacy more personal to kids.” For the 21st century reader, he encourages the development of a digital library. He points out that one advantage of a digital library is the technological tools that are not available with hard-copy books, including opportunities for collaboration. He supports the use of interactive digital texts with English Language Learners, which can build literacy skills and reader confidence.

How do you use books and digital texts with your students, or even your children?