I think that this week’s topic touches on something that’s always been important whether it’s in a digital sense or not, and that’s the idea of critical thought. There’s no doubt at all in my mind that people have become even more gullible since the advent of the internet, but all throughout history it’s been the case that people have a tendency to believe whatever they’re told. In some ways I have to wonder if it’s not some sort of Occam’s Razor complex where it’s simply easiest to believe whatever information is presented rather than have to exert energy to contemplate it. There’s also a certain extent where we’re indoctrinated into it; just look at the way that politicians operate. The world is full of people who believe that Elvis lives on Mars, that airplanes are poisoning angels with chemtrails, and that their way of worshiping “God” is the right one. And let’s face it, we’ve all gotten a bit outraged over an Onion article that we’ve read before realizing that we’ve been duped. The fact of the matter is that it’s all too easy to either maintain misguided ideas that we simply don’t want to let go of, or get tricked into believing something that’s just not true simply because it comes from an unreliable source that we trust as reliable.
Anyways, I think that the matter of promoting critical thought is a very important one, and not just through digital means. In social studies, for example, I think it is an important matter to analyze things like election promises from various politicians and ask whether those promises had ever been fulfilled. In English, we could take a closer look at advertising and break down how it work. In science, we should look at issues such as how climate change is seen in the realm of politics and then the financial reasons why it’s been ignored. These are just some ideas, but this is one of those ideas that I think is among the most important to be addressed in schools, but it ends up being turned into something more along the lines of this:
One idea that I’ve tampered with in my head is to warn my students ahead of time that I will purposely add small pieces of misinformation to my notes and that I want them to find the errors for me. As much as I don’t care for bonus marks, I think that would be a decent incentive, but I also have to wonder about the morality of purposely lying to students about the content, even if i do intend on correcting it. The reasoning behind this would be to force the students to realize that just because something comes from a source that you trust (in this case the teacher), it doesn’t mean that it’s always reliable.
Now as for digital citizenship, I feel like I’ve written full books on this issue by now. On the whole, I would say that I agree with Douglas Rushkoff for the most part. He basically says that although the internet is largely a place of anonymity and disconnection with our real lives due to it being an out-of-body experience, we should encourage our students to use it in a way that makes it a part of and extension of themselves. For the most part, this already happens; a Facebook profile, Twitter account, World of Warcraft character, etc. will become a part of the user’s identity and as such, it will become part of their image that they care about. If your character gets a reputation for stealing all the best loot in a raid, then very quickly no one will want to play with you anymore. If your website promotes hate, then it could very easily get petitioned or banned inside particular circles. If it was bad enough, then it could make it way back into your real life and have very real consequences, such was the case when Justine Sacco posted an ill-thought-through tweet (see the image below) and ended up getting fired for it.
It’s the illusion of anonymity online that brings out the worst aspects of people, and the reason is the idea that because the things that you do online can’t be traced back directly to you, and as such, there will be no consequences for the actions taken. I feel like one of the best ways to address this in school is through interactive video games. In something like Mincraft Edu, the teacher can monitor chat, student activities, and watch for poor behaviour which can in turn become teachable moments. This can also be accomplished through social websites and web projects. The fact of the matter is that it needs to be an ever-present and ongoing theme in any classroom, just as social behaviours in the real world are. It’s certainly not a one-week lesson, but a life-long one.