Ask the inhabitants

My online library network is getting excited about a couple of articles that are challenging beliefs.

There’s danah boyds’ You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? it is an incredibly powerful article that needs to be printed out and highlighted and read very slowly. A couple of times. One passage that struck me epitomised the near futility in what we’re trying to do on the “fake news” front.

“This is about making sense of an information landscape where the very tools that people use to make sense of the world around them have been strategically perverted by other people who believe themselves to be resisting the same powerful actors that we normally seek to critique.(boyd, 2018)

Her conclusion is that we need to “inoculate” students against their very human tendencies by approaches that “are designed to be cognitive strengthening exercises, to help students recognize their own fault lines, not the fault lines of the media landscape around them” (boyd, 2018).

And then Wilkinson’s (2017) very apt writing up of her presentation that boils down to the fact that it is humans, messy, opinionated humans, subject to confirmation bias who are doing the research and therefor takes a welcoming psychological approach to understanding how students research – the paragraph on “post truth psychology is particularly well worth reading.  Her point is to short-cut the evaluation part of resourcing research and cut to reliability.

So while all this was percolating in my brain, I went for a run while listening to 99% invisible, and they had a two part series on the Bijlmermeer. Having lived in the Netherlands in the 90’s – my first year was when the plane went down on one of the buildings – I was very interested to hear what an American podcast would have to say about it. And I realised that in many ways as librarians and teachers we are imposting a modernism/functionalism mindset on research. With our structures and mnemonics we are creating these concrete structures that get in the way of a more organic way of knowing and learning.

Furthermore, planners realized people didn’t want to live in huge concrete structures. Almost immediately after the Bijlmermeer was finished, another neighborhood in Amsterdam was redesigned — it was done with bricks, a traditional Dutch material.

The Bijlmermeer, and maybe a lot of Modernism, was architecture for architects. It was a top-down, paternalistic approach to city planning. The redesign of the Bijlmermeer did not make that mistake. People from the community were heavily involved in the redesign process (Mingle, 2018).

So yesterday evening I decided to ask the inhabitants. In this case my two high-school teenagers. I asked how they did research, how they decided where to search and what to use. The answers were enlightening. And frightening.

First my highly intellectual daughter who “does school” very well. She admitted that she didn’t have the first idea about doing “proper” research and that actually in the last seven years that she’s spent in a highly prestigious very expensive school she hasn’t had one single session with a librarian. Nor had her teachers taught her anything as up to now she’d never been asked to reference anything. And it’s only because I’d insisted and taught her Zotero for a recent Geography course-work project did she really know much about it. She blamed having to do the iGCSE, (something she absolutely hates) and if I had my time over I would never put my children in a school offering (i)GCSE. It’s a waste of time and intellect. Added teaching my daughter research before she goes off to do her IB onto my list of things to do in the next 3 months. Hahahahaha, crash course research. The irony.

Then my son. The dude who’s had a tough ride of school and teachers. The one that was fortunately rescued from prestige and arrogance. Well, he said, the need to spend time with the librarian on research was an extra bonus, but the problem wasn’t actually as “acute” (his own words!) as at his sister’s school as the teachers were “all over” researching well, so going to the library was reinforcement for what the teachers were doing. Well, I guess I use CRAAP he says. OK, I challenge, what does CRAAP stand for. He laughs embarrassed. Well, I don’t really use CRAAP he says – at the beginning of the year my teacher shared this site with us that gives reliable sources, so I know as long as I stick to those I’m ok. Touché.


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Back to the more structural part of all of this – Caulfield, who I greatly respect has a useful graphic and new open-source textbook – Web Literacy for student fact checkers for those who want to continue on the architectural part of research and learning.R

I like the first habit of “Check your emotions” – a bit like Tim Harford’s guide to understanding statistics in a misleading age.  Moi? I think I’m going to teach more psychology and less CRAAP to my students. A great place to start is “Your logical fallacy”  who have produced some excellent posters and other resources.




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