Starting in the Shallows

I’m writing today to share some reflections on attempting to create a set of non-examples of a project for students at my school. I was approached by a Chemistry teacher with a program that he had used in the past – a project about Glass. I really love the idea of the product from this project – a self-contained presentation, audio elements, high quality visuals. It is a target rich opportunity for co-instruction and individual student coaching to find resources.

I had also been given one class period to come in and offer some direct instruction to all classes – they are mixed ability students with individual 1-1 devices, but as a grade have not had any Library Instruction yet this year – so I wanted to use the time I had well to promote in-house resources as well as instruction…

I then fell into a small pit of despair – with one class period, and multiple objectives – how can I sell this cohort of students on vetted resources AND talk about research skills.

To pull out of this – I began throwing out possible ideas through twitter. While microblogging maybe has lost some of its luster as a generalizable tool, it is a helpful tool for me to get started with writing, teaching, and doing. And, sure enough, I threw out an idea that was then picked up by some other AISL-ers (Many thanks to Dave and Chris for follow up questions).

I wanted to focus on promoting the collection by creating a non-example of research. My initial thought was to create a google slide presentation of the first three hits on google and scrape the data off of them and ask students to evaluate how good a job this did of entertaining and informing them. I’ve done this in the past with non-examples of high quality presentations (THIS example of Tycho Brahe’s life in three minutes is my favorite previous lesson) I veered from this plan a bit, because I realized there might be a more dramatic way of nudging students further a field.

This Fall, our community began reading Artificial Intelligence in Education by Fadel, Holmes and Bialik, as an all staff read for a retreat day. The book covers a broad survey of ways that machine learning algorithms and automated assessments and learning environments might shift the classroom. It’s not a book that you could turn around and use immediately in the classroom, but it forced me to consider some tools that I often forget about – the voice assistant on my students phones.

So, to start this lesson, I picked out volunteers in the class to ask Siri ‘Tell me about Glass Art’ – while I displayed the front page from Wikipedia. I like displaying the front page of Wikipedia when starting to talk about research, because it allows me to verbally walk through criteria of usefulness for an assignment – some pages are better written than others – the History of Glass Art – And sure enough, Siri began reading that Wikipedia page out loud to the class.

The next piece of instruction was a reflective writing Think Pair and Share about how well this resource would allow them to answer ‘How’ they knew the facts presented by the article – this Wikipedia entry is pretty general without specific citations in the early paragraph.

I then walked them through google’s first hit on History of Glass – historyofglass.com

Pretty standard informational site with no citations or visible author. It took some prodding to have students articulate what might be problematic about the site, I include the image because it matches many of the sources that students find when searching the shallow end of the internet – it’s information without context. I then tried to walk them through finding who or why this information existed.

My go to first step for a long time has been to find the about section and unpack what content marketing company has paid a writer – no luck there, so I tried the contact page.

Also vague – so I jumped laterally to the privacy policy – because, as I mentioned in my instruction, information doesn’t just ‘end up’ on the internet- – someone put it there. The page doesn’t have any visible ads – which had my privacy self SPOOKED (I like to feel like I understand WHY the author of a site wants me there).

Nothing really there except normal google analytics. 

The rest of the lesson ended up being focused more on finding music for presentations – a different topic than I want to talk about here, but I’ll share this symbaloo of resources I curated for my students for the project.

What tools are you using to interrupt the automated process of information retrieval? David Loertscher wrote about banning the bird project years ago, but on some level if your classroom teachers want a bird project – how can you use the automated tools to help the classes and students produce something extra? I close with a recommendation. The design podcast, 99% Invisible had an episode about Pepper farming that reflected a bit on the difficulty of designing a machine that could pick pepper plants efficiently. Machines have difficulty with the complex task of pulling the soft vegetable off the hard vine, they tend to either harvest too little, or destroy what they have harvested. They are not good at doing lateral thinking and problem solving to find the harvest. I think that our students need to own this distinctly human skill at problem solving

I’m spending this year thinking about what humans are good at that automation and machine learning alone can’t do. I’m starting my information literacy lesson in the shallows of the internet to make the case for making a deeper dive. What have you been teaching this week?

3 thoughts on “Starting in the Shallows

  1. Thank you for sharing your work! It feels authentic, respects the way that real human beings do information seeking in the real world, yet takes that practice and gives students methods to make that work better. I think my kids would respond well to this kind of instruction! Love this!

  2. Thank you for sharing. Even when time is short, I try to put the students on the presearch path first instead of a cold opening on a research app. When this step is omitted for whatever reason, students may manipulate their academic database searching for the sake of completing the project and not for the sake of research that makes sense. As you mentioned above, the newest iteration of asking Alexa muddies the waters further. Assignments may go so far as to direct “Use ABC to find XYZ and do not consult 123.” I realize this is the result of years of instruction aimed at getting students focused on consulting academic sources, but without a presearch component that purposefully allows for shallow dives, it sets students up for forced research skills and poor techniques. I enjoyed your post and lesson that bridges the gap, acknowledging the need for presearch AND evaluating what is found there, and then applying the techniques to the deeper dives.

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