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Filters and Filter Failure: Part 3: 2nd Stage Filtration

Welcome to Part 3 of this series of blog posts which focus on the concept that ‘it’s not information overload: it’s filter failure’ first identified by Clay Shirky back in 2008.

If you’ve been following from Parts 1 and 2, you will be familiar with my prototype for 2-stage filtration, a (tongue in cheek) model for discussing how we might better manage information, to ensure that what we interact with is not only an amount that is controllable, but also that it is of high quality.

Click to enlarge

The prototype (seen to the left) was presented in part one, and has been designed to recognise that while we have many technological tools at our disposal with which we can sift and sort information, it takes a second filtration process in many cases, to identify high quality, reliable and credible information.

Part 2 of this series of posts identified that there are ways to manage our social media and email preferences, use search creatively and take advantage of digital content curation to filter out less useful information in an age where we are overwhelmed every day by massive amounts of content. It was a fairly long post, but I felt it was important to explore a number of ways that perhaps are less considered when evaluating and sorting through information.

This Part 3 post will be much shorter. Why? Because this post will focus on what I call Critical Web Literacy; the application of critical thinking skills to online information, and I have blogged about this in detail before. Therefore, rather than reproducing this information, I will be directing you to these posts, along with a few other useful resources that you may or may not have encountered.

I know that it is a little bit cheeky to actually name our brain as a part of the filtration process; after all, really it is our brain which drives the computer technology also, and which underpins the need for  information access entirely. However, I wanted to separate out the stuff that we can set our computers up to do for us almost automatically (in Part 2) and the stuff that we need to do ourselves. Of course, this second stage of filtration, using our brains, applies to many things way beyond information available online. We apply critical thinking in every aspect of our lives, every day. That is why I am referring to this 2nd stage filtration as critical web literacy; the particular thinking strategies we can use when working with masses of information, most commonly accessible via the internet. These strategies focus more upon evaluating the quality of information – looking at ways to ensure the information we are using is credible, reliable and accurate.

Strategies to evaluate websites

There are many thinking tools available to apply when evaluating the quality of the websites found after a search online. One of my favourites is the REAL strategy, by Alan November. I wrote in detail about this strategy in my blog post Getting ‘REAL’ with web evaluation.

REAL stands for READ the URL, EXAMINE the site’s content and history, ASK about the publisher, LOOK at the links. The reason I like this process is that it goes beyond what has been presented on the page, and challenges the reader to explore the person or organisation who published the page, and who else is using the page (by looking at the links). The internet is powerful because it is a network of information; and by following the connections between a page and its supporting resources, you get a better idea not just of what the page is about, but also who created the page, and potentially why they did so. The story is often bigger than what is placed at the front.

Strategies to evaluate social media

Whether we like it or not, a lot of people get a lot of their information through social media channels. While I wouldn’t recommend using social media for a research assignment, it is often the most up to date channel through which we receive breaking news on current events. However the fact that social media is so fast moving and that absolutely anyone can post whatever they like means that we need to be particularly wary of immediately taking information sourced through social media at face value. That’s why I wrote an extensive blog post called Tricks to Find the Truth: Information Literacy and Social Media. This post explores a number of strategies and tools that are useful when evaluating  the quality of information provided by a range of social media tools.

Other great resources

Howard Rheingold is the ‘father’ of CRAP detection online – his online course is legendary for increasing critical web literacy. If you haven’t read his work or explored his site, I’d encourage you to do so.

Another online course which may interest you is the (excuse the bad language) Calling Bullshit. This course is for more advanced learners, and has a data focus. According to the website:

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

Even if these areas aren’t of particular focus for you, definitely check out the syllabus with links to course readings; there are some really interesting articles, particularly about statistics and how they can be used to say just about anything!

Finally, I continue to curate websites that support these concepts on my Pinterest board: check it out below.

So that’s it! 3 posts responding to the statement ‘it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure!’.
Hopefully I haven’t added to your information overload, but rather given you a few different ideas on how you might improve your own and your students’ filters, so that in the end, you have less to deal with, and more importantly, the information you to encounter is of higher quality, and of more use for your needs.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Let’s chat more!

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