Sunday, January 20, 2019

Are You a Critical Consumer?

Digital literacy is more important now than it has ever been.  The exponential evolution if the Internet and social media tools have allowed for the quick sharing of knowledge, ideas, images, videos, and opinions.  The result has been a double-edged sword.  In one respect everyone with a  smartphone has instant access to information at any time and from anywhere. I for one love the fact that I can get up to the minute news, sports scores, and weather in the palm of my hand. However, there is a downside that is beginning to plague society. We have seen an influx of misinformation, claims of “fake” news, inaccurate facts, distortion of the truth, broad claims, doctored results, and opinions with not much substance behind them.  Now more than ever we must not only teach our kids to be critical consumers of digital content, but we must also model the same. 

The education space is not immune to some of the prevalent issues and challenges described above.  This is not to say that amazing ideas and strategies aren’t being shared. In fact, I for one benefitted greatly as a principal when I learned about something shared on social media and then either implemented or adapted it in a way that bolstered the transformation efforts at my school.  Case in point.  As we explored moving towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in 2010, I was able to glean powerful insights and evidence of efficacy from the Forsyth County School District in Georgia. The content they shared included policies, procedures, pedagogical techniques, and professional development, but more importantly, tangible improvement results.  Motivated and inspired I then began to seek out research and more examples of successful implementation that aligned with our goals while addressing specific challenges.

Going BYOD sounded like a great idea based on what I had either read or saw online. However, not everything I consumed addressed the realities we faced as a school. Some of were too “fluffy” or not practical.  It is important when reading a blog post or article to look beyond what in theory sounds good, but in practice might not lead to improvement.  Going beyond surface level opinions and ideas is really at the heart of critical consumption.  Since many of my queries when out through Twitter at the time that is how I received the majority of the information for consumption. As more and more tools and pathways have emerged to allow educators to share it is incumbent upon all of us to take a more in-depth look so that something isn’t done just for the sake of doing it or because it sounds really good.  
“Just because something sounds good on Twitter or looks good on Pinterest doesn’t mean it is an effective practice.”
The quote above has really helped ground my approach to what I consume and then ultimately use to improve professional practice.  It also extends well beyond social media to articles, books, keynotes, workshops, and presentations. We must acknowledge that with all of the great ideas and strategies there is an equal amount that just isn’t very good regardless of the hype surrounding them. By not good I mean that there will be difficulties in either implementing at scale or showing, not just talking about, better results.  To assist in taking a critical lens to what we see or hear consider the following questions:
  • Why is this idea or strategy good for my classroom, school, district, organization or professional growth?
  • How will it positively impact learners beyond just engagement?
  • Does it align to peer-reviewed research?
  • Is it realistic given culture, budgetary, demographic, socioeconomic, and facility challenges?
  • What qualitative and quantitative measures can be used as evidence to validate whether or not it is effective at improving outcomes? 
  • How can it be sustained and scaled?

Sharing will not and should not stop. Becoming a connected educator changed my entire trajectory thanks to what I was and continue to be able to glean from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) in addition an array of other means to get information discussed in this post. It is up to you to be a critical consumer to separate quality from what in theory seems like a great idea, but in practice won’t get the results that learners and educators are seeking. Sounding good just doesn’t cut it when the bold new world demands more from our learners.  

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