I saw Obama in my Wii the other day…

17 10 2008

The US Presidential election is the media’s second favourite hobby-horse, after the impending apocalypse-like recession, so it’s nice to see that  the Obama vs McCain race is throwing up some interesting material relevant to information literacy and educational technology. As reported by this BBC news article, in the Democratic corner we have Obama’s campaign team using video games to display advertisements for early voting, while in the Republican corner McCain’s campaigners appear to be attempting to bypass YouTube’s content policies by using copyrighted material in their campaign videos. The purpose of the video game adverts is to capture the attention of notoriously ambivalent 18-34 year old male voter demographic, an age range which coincides with the age of many students in higher education. Being able to produce educational technologies that translate to popular gaming platforms could well be a key way of engaging with students, particularly as the internet connectivity of many consoles is blurring the line between PCs and Playstations as mediums for accessing the web. On the McCain/YouTube front, well, it just goes to show how a lack of info lit skills can bite even the supposedly great and the supposedly good on the bum.

Reasons not to plagiarise: 1. Copying someone else is mean. 2. Copying someone else in a speech given to the nation you’re in charge of in an attempt to justify a controversial major armed conflict is mean

2 10 2008

It’s either unbelievable or extremely believable depending on your level of cynicism (mine’s medium high – high), but a speech given by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in 2003, supporting the war in Iraq has been revealed as being substantially plagiarised. The speech in question, as reported here by BBC news, is in parts a word for word replication of one given by former Australian PM John Howard earlier in 2003. Harper’s speech writer, Owen Lippert has admitted that “pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech”, which seems to infer that it was an excess of zeal (zealousy?) in plagiarising that was at fault, rather than the act of plagiarism itself. Coming during an election campaign, the revelation has been particularly damaging to Mr Harper’s chances of staying in office and serves to show that if you don’t have a good grasp of your sources, or, in this case, of the sources used by the guy you pay to make you sound like the sort of person who  has a good grasp of his sources, then the consequences can be pretty embarrassing.

Credit where credit’s due for information literacy

1 10 2008

I think it would be a great thing if course credits were awarded to students for completing information literacy or anti-plagiarism courses. Credits could be the big fat juicy carrot to get people interested in info lit programmes and would also give it status as an academic discipline in its own right. William Badke’s article in the Journal of Information Literacy sets out the context and rationale for running accredited academic courses in info lit; the more people that are thinking along these lines the better!

Games, love games

17 09 2008

Published in D-Lib magazine, The effectiveness of a Web-based Board Game for Teaching Undergraduate Students Information Literacy Concepts and Skills is an article written by a research team at the University of Michigan School of Information on an online board game, ‘Defense of Hidgeon’ which they developed to promote information literacy amongst first year undergraduates. The article stresses the role that games have to play in education, stating that: ‘We opted for a game in lieu of other approaches because what people are doing when they are playing good games is good learning’. It also points out that online games can reach students where tutors cannot, i.e. anywhere with internet access and in the students’ free time. Working along similar lines is the Open University’s Digilab, which produces and promotes educational games, interestingly stretching to leisure based platforms like the XBox 360 and PSP.

I shoddily researched the news today, oh boy

11 09 2008

If you thought journalism was all about hard nosed, dedicated mavericks with a thirst for the truth giving their all to get to the bottom of things then think again. Apparently you can just google a company, find a six years out of date article on them, publish it as ‘news’, wiping millions off the company’s share price and still call yourself a ‘journalist’ these days. Thanks to Librarian of Fortune for pointing out Income Securities Advisers‘ publication of a story announcing United Airlines’ filing for bankruptcy on September 8 this year, when in fact the request for bankruptcy was reported back in December 2002. As reported on Forbes.com:

Its impact on United’s stock was swift and terrible. In the span of 10 minutes, 24 million shares changed hands. The stock, trading at $12.45, crashed to $3, according to Nasdaq. So severe was the market’s response that Nasdaq halted trading from 11:06 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The exchange says the rest of the day’s trades will stand.

The problem, as most in the financial news industry and traders around the world now know, was that the story was six years old. The Chicago Tribune story ran Dec. 10, 2002, and appears to have been republished or resurfaced accidentally Sunday afternoon on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel‘s site.

So, not terribly impressive then. What is good is the way in which this highlights the importance of information literacy (IL) in the ‘real’ world beyond academia. One of the selling points of IL is its necessity in students’ future working lives and this unfortunate series of events serves to emphasise just how severe the implications of not interrogating your sources can be. Not that every mistake is going to involve in single-handedly destroying the stock profile of an established international airline, but it wouldn’t hurt if people were just a tiny bit afraid of messing up in their research. This IL tutorial from UCLA makes good use of real life cases to stree the importance of avoiding plagiarism, something there should really  be more of in information literacy training.

Pay close attention

26 08 2008

Is the internet damaging our literacy skills? Mark Bauerlein thinks so and his article in The Chronicle Review has provoked a lively debate. Bauerlein writes that ‘screen technologies (as customarily used by teens) have damaged their reading habits, hurt their writing, and weakened their respect for historical and civic knowledge‘, an assertion that I’m not entirely in agreement with.

After all, I’ve witnessed the attention span of 12 and 13 year olds at close quarters and I think it would be wrong to attribute a tendency to skim over information,without absorbing or evaluating it, solely to television or the internet. If you’re talking about the ‘young’ then you’re talking about people whose literacy and concentration skills are still in development, so maybe their use of the internet reflects pre-existing traits in their literacy, rather than their literacy being symptomatic of internet use?

That’s not to say that I completely disagree with what Bauerlein’s saying. I taught myself to speed-read while I was at university, which was helpful at the time, but less so when you start doing it whilst trying to relax an read a novel on the train! If I had a pound for every time I’ve gone haring through a paragraph, only to have to re-read it because I haven’t taken it in I’d be a rich man, rich enough to get a limo to work rather than rely on the vaguaries of the British rail network. So yes, rushing through information uncritically is harmful, but:

a) I did it because I was under pressure to read large volumes of print, not large volumes of web-based information and

b) if children and teenagers are having their literacy skills damaged by the internet, surely their learning in languages and IT can address this?

After all, if schools and colleges are so keen on using the web for learning, then surely they should be aware enough of its limitations  to mitigate for them in their teaching? I’d hope so and, in the context of my job, any help from schools with students’ information literacy skills before they get to university would be very welcome indeed.