What to Think While Thinking Critically Online

What to Think While Thinking Critically Online

In our research in online reading comprehension, we often highlight the five skills we see being used as students read online: questioning, locating, synthesizing, evaluating, and communicating. Each of these skills has their own issues as students move online to encounter the multitude of texts that make up the online reading experience. In looking at critical evaluation specifically, I view this as being a situated experience that draws upon two major constructs: credibility and relevance. Credibility is typically defined in terms of expertise and trustworthiness (Judd, Farrow, & Tims, 2006), or the reliability of information (Kiili, Laurinen, & Marttunen, 2008). Relevance is typically defined in terms of importance and currency (Judd, Farrow, & Tims, 2006), or judgments about the essential nature of information (Kiili, Laurinen, & Marttunen, 2008), especially in relation to the task. I also am very interested in the sincerity of the information source as students read online. The sincerity of an online information source defined as being the presentation of truthfulness in identity, intent, and information as a means to determine honest social relationships (Trilling, 1972; Kolb, 1996; Dahlberg, 2001).

The troublesome…actually frightening aspect about critical evaluation as students read online is that for the most part..they don’t do it. If you read some of the reports put out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project over the lat ten years you’ll also see that these habits extend to the search habits employed by adults as they read online. As a researcher, I try to examine, measure, and hopefully facilitate these skills in students to better prepare them for the future. But it seems even as we fight these uphill battles to help students better evaluate and think critically about online information, there are other factors at play.

In a fascinating recent piece by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic, he discusses the recent political elections that have gripped the country, but from the perspective of online search results, sharing and the Digg community. Basically what he shares is the exploits of groups of individuals who serve as “bury brigades” in trying to squash and push down stories that don’t align with their own ideologies out the public online radar. By forcing these stories further and further down, they in effect prevent others from viewing them on Digg, or even online search engines. Mr. Hirschorn cites James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of the Crowds, that for Google’s search results “to be smart at the top, the system has to be smart all the way through”. In reading online it is increasingly more important to think critically and examine what is being conveyed by the author, but we also must consider who is not included or represented in what we read online. This critical literacy view could be important due to access of technology and literacy…or more nefarious aspects of “factual counterterrorism”.

Please read the article in its entirety at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/truth-lies-here…

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