Thursday, July 18, 2013

Skepticism and the Internet

How often do you ask a question five times?  How often do you consult five different sources when looking for an answer on the internet?  Admittedly, I often click on the first search result in Google and leave it at that.  But how can I really trust the first source I find?  In class we played a version of "20 Questions" in which the facilitator could lie two times.  This means, in order to identify a lie, the same question needed to be asked five times. 

Growing up in an age where the internet was not a part of daily life in school, I would like to think that my teachers presented unbiased views.  Today, students get more of their information from the internet. If we are not teaching digital literacy in a way that promotes healthy criticism and skepticism how will students know how to differentiate a biased view from an unbiased one?  I think the goal would be for students to learn how to research enough sources to understand all sides of an issue in order to formulate their own opinions.  This brings me back to a previous post in which I discussed the responsibility of schools to teach digital literacy.  Etiquette is important, but so is being able to differentiate between a reliable source and an unreliable one.  It makes me wonder how many students simply get most of their information from Wikipedia and take it as fact.  If part of our job is to produce informed citizens, how can we do that without teaching digital literacy?  

A student may stumble upon this blog and take my opinions as fact.  They might think that everything I write here is a shared view with the rest of the world.  Not only is this far from true, but it is a scary thought.  What authority do I have to tell someone what "digital literacy" means and should be?  I think the goal should be for students to read even a blog post with a healthy dose of skepticism.  


  1. Thanks for sharing about the 20 Questions Game! It wasn't until today, reading your blog and Shannon's, that that important activity came back into my working memory! One of the most striking elements of that game was the fact that we had to ask a question 5 times over into order to ascertain the true answer. It's hard to imagine how that number expands as you move away from Jeff's predetermined rules of the game to the thousands of sites that provide information about the same topic.

    I wonder how we can grow in efficiency when it comes to checking sources and sifting through piles of information. Like you, I often go with one of the first webpages that Google pulls up for me. I usually swallow the information hook, line and sinker, especially on topics that I am a complete novice to, which will be the typical level of understanding that our students will have.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Hi Rachael,

    When you mentioned "digital literacy" if made me think about how we were once taught (and probably still are to a sense)researching from multiple books, magazines, and journals before concluding our ideas on subjects. I remember a project that I did in 6th grade. We all had to pick an animal and write a research report on them. One of the big take-aways of the project was to learn to use multiple sources in this way. I'm not sure research from the internet was even an option, but I do remember we were given large index cards. Each card had to be from a different type of source and then we collected facts from that source by writing it on the appropriate card. We did this in order make sure that we found information related to our topic from all perspective that way if there was anything we were questioning or skeptical of we would have further research to support our statements. The ideas you presented about "digital literacy" reminded me of this because its interesting to think about applying this same technique, but to multiple internet sources in order to teach this same concept or type of skepticism.

  3. Hi again! Like Laura, I really liked how you brought up the 20 questions game from class and how we would have to ask the same question 5 times to get the correct answer if the facilitator could lie twice. It's amazing how many people think because they see something posted on the internet, they consider it to be true. Like on Facebook, I see people posting all these controversial posts or ridiculous articles or proposals of policies, etc. and when I search online for them, I find out that what those people have posted were fake. Another example are those chain letters that people receive saying things like your Facebook will be deleted or advertising companies will be able to access all your pictures and information if you don't post some statement on your wall. I think it's definitely worth emphasizing the importance of being skeptical and critical of information to students, and also emphasize the use of multiple sources in order to differentiate between fact and fiction.

  4. Rachael, you cogently identify and frame one potential take-away from the 20 questions activity, and you do so in a way that clearly resonates for several of your readers (most definitely including me). One quick thought in response to your posting is the (hopeful?) observation that I can imagine no disciplinary setting more hospitable to idea that we must seek to understand our surroundings--and must thus seek to interrogate them in the spirit deepening that understanding--than a science classroom. My hunch is that giving your students a taste of the intellectual stance embodied by the scientific method could have a profound impact on them, and in a way that would ultimately move towards the kinds of goals embedded in your thinking...and it won't be long before you'll have the chance to test out that theory!