Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our Digital World: Access, Access, Access

Evaluating Digital Resources

As the resource experts in our schools, we need to work hard to hone our students' and colleagues' skills in discerning what are good resources. Working in a resource- and tool-starved environment can lead to a scavenger approach; that is, simply because a site or online resource is geared to teaching and available digitally, it is good ... we hear that some are free, therefore good; readily accessible, therefore good; or "my students like it," therefore good. While we are aware that there are bad things available online, our "broad brush" often eliminates these and then seeks anything educational.

Our district provides, at some considerable expense, an amazing array of digital resources suited, developmentally, for K-12 learning. How many teachers in your school use these independently? Or do they see them as "library resources"? The object here is to give them away. Create independent teacher and student users as these are credible and reliable resources that our students will be required to use more and more frequently as they advance in education. We hear from the universities that our students need to know how to use these better.

The world wide web provides an amazing array of resources; the task we face as teachers is one of helping students (and colleagues) develop skills at sorting the ones most suited to their purpose from the pile of results, and then use them in a timely and effective fashion. Think of this as teaching the 3 Es of resource use: learners need to know how to be effective, efficient, and ethical as they access, evaluate, and use what they find online. Often, our colleagues need help with this too.

One tool I have used with secondary students is called the CCRAP Detector (see TL Wiki, Tech Integration, Tools and Strategies, #9).

Teaching for Credibility and Reliability: First students learn to select from amongst "results" (you may pre-select these to ensure there are a range of less and more credible and reliable sites in the pile). Start by teaching them to analyze the site's address: .gov, for example, being more credible than .com, when you are researching a Canadian history topic. It is always a source of amusement what our tech-savvy students need to be taught; for example, I really enjoyed telling grade 8 students coming in to do a poetry unit that is not likely to be a credible source of poetry for an assignment, that books are more likely to be the BEST source, in fact. Excellent worksheets from TC2 for thinking about credibility and reliability with online sources can be found here. (see TL Wiki, Tech Integration, #5 under Tools and Strategies)

Reading URLs: A lesson on predicting credibility and reliability for their purposes begins with learning to "read" URLs and on sorting out the most desirable sites by domain names.

Abstracts, Excerpts, and Page 1 Results: Our students need to learn to read "abstracted" or truncated information in the excerpted google research results and go beyond the first page of results. There is no question that the speed with which students click through, into, and out of websites suggests a less than thorough analysis!

Keywords and Other Variables: Students need to learn to use synonyms for keywords and to search using a variety of search terms and search engines. They need to understand why they get the results they get and how to revise the search to get better ones.

Evidence: Students need to learn to corroborate what they have found; what do other sites have to say on the topic or about the site they are inclined to trust?

Then, when secondary students have determined that a site is likely to be reliable or credible, they are ready to do a deeper analysis; they use the "deep" CCRAP Detector (see link above) and skills of analysis, checking what they find on the selected sites for Currency, Coverage, Relevance, Authority, and Perspective (CCRAP).

If constant repetition of the acronym CCRAP is not appropriate for your elementary students, then simply re-frame the learning and re-do the worksheet as The H+4Ws of Resource Evaluation (How? for Coverage; When? for Currency; Why? for Relevance; Who? for Authority; What? for Perspective) or change the acronym to PARCC. Or hone in on building student confidence in finding good sources one skill at a time. But do let's get them thinking critically about what they are using for information.

The questions 4Ws+ H are further developed on the pdf linked to the paragraph above.

Hoax sites are an excellent way to hone students skills of analysis. These work best if you do not give away that they are hoax sites. Let your students discover the hoax. The excitement of the first discovery will quickly lead to others.

There is no shortage of online resources to help you develop similar lessons on evaluating websites. Perhaps the definitive source of ideas can be found on Discovery Education: Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators (see Teacher Helpers / Critical Evaluation Information; scroll down to see the list of hoax sites and search for more online). My favourite is not on this list; Mr Lee's pregnancy, now a podcast on the RYT Hospital site, never fails to amuse me as no detail has been spared in rendering his miraculous experience credible. Might this be something not to use with elementary students? Short of trusting prior knowledge, this one is difficult to crack! Mr Lee on the RYT Hospital site is probably the best example for teaching students to do a corroborating search -- what do other sites have to say about this hospital? That's where they learn it is a hoax.

Evaluating Classroom Resources: Working with our Colleagues. Now, we in education are being simply inundated by offers of "subscription" classroom-teacher resources. Here's where your resource expertise is absolutely essential. I for one am engaging in the math skill of prediction; I am awaiting Houghton-Mifflin's grade 4 math online curriculum e-text email announcement and trying to predict when it will come, based on the separate arrivals of the last three! There are some simple reminders for our colleagues:

  • Many resources are ethically accessible only if the district or site has a subscription. We are not entitled to use any public libraries' subscription resources, including the VPL's, except for our own purposes. Students may not access these unless they do so on their own individual cards, nor can teachers share their patron card access or use this for group showings; the subscription databases are for individual patron access.

  • All resources used in classrooms must be reviewed according to clear criteria, by law. These evaluation criteria are available in an ERAC White Paper: Evaluating, Selecting, and Managing Learning Resources. Download and print a copy to keep ready for the evaluation needs of your staff, or direct your administrator and/or colleagues to this document link to find forms that include social and technical considerations, Canadian content, and more.

  • Our Purchasing department makes deals with vendors; don't be sucked in to making the deals based on vendor offers at sites. These vary widely. We are, in terms of learning resources, back to Frontierland; rules that applied to print vendors are not being transferred to the new digital resource format in the frenzy to get at the digital.

  • Digital resources are generally equitably accessible throughout the district. We have a district Digital Library where these can be found. We also generally don't purchase a specific number of licences but provide access by site or by district. Separate licensing is both time consuming and difficult to maintain; they easily get lost. TLs believe in the centralized distribution of resources; any other way diminishes our capacity to support teaching and learning in our schools.
  • Remember what I said about the tendency to see digital resources as good; scratch the surface, check the links, do a thorough review, and you will find that many are simply re-packaged print or real programs that do not meet district criteria for use in their original form in our schools. Encourage colleagues to submit these to you for review.

  • Assert your role as the "resource services" expert in your schools! You can never find enough ways to help your administrator and colleagues in this role.

No comments: