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Newsletter - January 17, 2012

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January 26, 2012

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Feb 17-18, 2012
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Feb. 23-24, 2012 

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March 9-10, 2012

VTS Practicum

Washington, DC 


April 12-13, 2012

VTS Practicum

Portland, OR


April 27-28, 2012

VTS Practicum

Worcester, MA


June 7-8, 2012

VTS Practicum

Eugene, OR

August 21-24, 2012

Advanced Practicum

Seattle, WA 



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From the Executive Director   


Clive Johnson wrote an article for the November 2011 issue of Wired Magazine, "Why Kids Can't Search."  This newsletter, written by Executive Director Oren Slozberg, extends the thinking about critical thinking in the digital age.

How do you know whether a website about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was written by the King Center in Atlanta, an academic studying African-American history or a white supremacist hate group?  When searching with Google, do students know how to tell one site from the other?  A report on MLK Day would look very different depending on whose website, and thus whose information, the student is taking for truth.

Clive Thompson wrote about this problem in education in the latest issue of Wired magazine.  He quotes some studies in which researchers looked at whether students who grew up as "digital natives" were able to recognize the quality of information on a website, despite the order of the search results.

Most students, I would guess, rely on the algorithm developed by Google that ranks sites by a complicated system of links-in, links-out and by advertising. In Thompson's article, he shares a study by a researcher that changes the order of the results that appeared when the student performs a Google search. Students did not notice the difference in reliability.

Between Google, Wikipedia, and millions of other websites, there is an abundance of information on every subject you choose. You can find academic peer-reviewed papers, personal storied, amateur journalism, as well as ideologically-motivated and intentionally deceitful websites. What can we do to make sure that our young super-surfers don't get lost in the web?

Thompson writes about the teacher that directs students to academic websites, or sites that have some kind accountability to an institution or publication -- the difference between Wikipedia and Britannica, for example.  Another option is to make sure students cite their sources accurately, not only the website where they got the information, but also the website's own sources.  These are good strategies for a school report, but now the question, what skills do the digital natives need to intuitively know that a site is a sham, slanted, or worse?

What are the core critical thinking and analysis skills, and how are they developed? Thompson suggests various approaches that teachers can try in their classrooms.  I would add that a mind that is wired with critical thinking -- probably like the mind of a student with years of VTS -- is key to a successful websurf.

The ability to look critically at a website, search for statements that are backed up with evidence, explore the underlying assumption an author might have, and then compare how the website measures against other sites and sources are just some aspects of finding information on the web.

More and more, schools are going digital in every corner of the school day.  This shift comes with its own set of pros and cons, of course, with good arguments on either side.  (Google it!) However, as the case that Thompson makes, there are thinking skills that the next generation is going to have to develop -- be it manually or digitally -- so that they can move through the internet ether with a careful, critical eye.