4/17/2012

Content knowledge and digital literacy


wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons Almeida_Júnior_-_Moça_com_Livro.jp


While at supper with friends, someone asked me to look over some medical claims they found online. A quick glance at the material revealed it to be a fraud. The article mentioned softening the patient's cell walls. Humans don't have cell walls, just membranes. Had my friend known this basic biological fact, she could have rejected the information out of hand.  She’s not alone, though. People tend to trust the first few Google hits rather than reading what is there and judging accordingly.

The fact that we can learn anything, anywhere and at any time we please has convinced quite a few people that content knowledge is a silly goal to pursue. The idea is that since mobile devices and the internet gives us unfettered access to information, there should be no reason to "waste" time teaching students any basic content knowledge.  Such opinions are dangerously mistaken. After all, electronics run out of power, loose connection and (gasp) get lost. More importantly, students will be exposed to large amounts of questionable material online. Without the internal resources to double check validity, anyone can be led to believe scams which could be costly indeed.

The trick is to use triangulation. This is a process of using three sources to figure out the accuracy of information. When researching online, the three sources are as follows:

  1. You- Consider how comfortable you feel about the article or claim. Does it feel right? If there are warning bells going off in your head, pay attention.
  2. The Internet
  3. A trusted expert- This could be a teacher, doctor or encyclopedia. It could also be your background education. The important thing is to look to an outside authority. Which agrees more with the authority... you or the internet?

Teachers of course have limited time. We struggle to strike a balance between teaching content knowledge and thinking skills. The triangulation method is a great way to find some of that balance. Not only will students have a great critical thinking tool, but they’ll also have additional motivation to learn content. When students ask “Why do we have to know this?” you can always tell them that it will help them avoid being ripped off by liars and idiots.