I learned this evening Barack Obama is on Flickr. So if Senator Obama is elected President of the United States in 2008, will that mean students in our local Oklahoma school district will be able to access and use Flickr for digital storytelling projects?

Probably not. Local school board control and interpretive implementation of mandates like CIPA mean things like access to Flickr isn’t mandated or centrally prohibited in the United States. Actually, I think that is a good thing. I’m in favor of local school control. I just wish we could find more ways to help local school leaders be more visionary in their understanding of 21st century teaching and learning. I also wish NCLB would not be reauthorized, since it essentially mandates a strong curricular focus on high-stakes test prep in schools all over our nation. I find that antithetical to the ideal of local school control… but I digress.

How, incidentally, do I know this Flickr site purporting to be the official Flickr account of Senator Obama is REALLY his? Is this an important question to consider? Of course it is. Validating information is a necessity, not an option, in our 21st century attention economy.

So how did I verify this information? I checked Senator Obama’s official website, and found the link to his Flickr page at the bottom of his main homepage. (Along with links to his Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other web 2.0 websites.) I’m sure he has plenty of help from others managing the content on these sites, but the point of my post is not that he has a committee of many helping with his web 2.0 communication campaign. The point is, there is a fast way to verify whether or not a web 2.0 site purporting to be his “officially” is a spoof or not.

This brings up an interesting question. If one or more of your current or past students created a “spoof page” purportedly made by you on any social networking website, how would others be able to verify whether or not it was truly yours? Do you have a personal website where you link to other websites you maintain and have actually made? I know most teachers don’t, but should they? It’s an interesting question to consider. Certainly we’ve seen plenty of headlines your school doesn’t want which should inspire educators at all levels to consider this question.

Are you helping your students learn how to validate information they find online and from other sources? You should be, this is included in the ISTE NETS standard 5 under “Technology research tools:”

Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.

Just using your textbook as an information resource in your classroom? Just using library books? If so, that’s not enough for the 21st century learning and communication landscape.

The Quality Information Checklist has been one of my favorite resources for information validation for several years. Do you have other favorites? I published an article on this topic in 1999 for the TechEdge entitled, “Validating Information and Resolving Information Conflicts,” but I’m sure even better website validation tools and strategies are available now compared to when I wrote that article. Zach Miners and Angela Pascopella’s article “The New Literacies” in the October issue of District Administrator magazine linked to the great website “Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.” While that website is a rather humorous example, the martinlutherking [dot] org site sponsored by the white supremacist group stormfront [dot] org is a much more serious example of why everyone needs to be diligent in validating information. For more details on that site, refer to “Tips for evaluating websites” on the Ohio University website from 2003.

The Republic Of Cascadia: Bureau of Sasquatch Affairs website is also worth checking out on the subject of information validation, from the same author (Lyle Zapato) bringing us the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site. One of my favorite quotations from this series of sites is the following from a list of combat training topics for the Cascadian Sasquatch Militia:

Salmon Wielding: The salmon: tasty as a snack but, when in trained Sasquatch hands, deadly as a weapon. Salmon wielders are the silent assassins of Cascadia – waiting, hidden along trails, to take out enemies swiftly and silently.

Beware that following this thread topic can be not only humorous but time consuming. Consider the MIT study “On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study” as well as Lyle Zapato’s articulate and well diagrammed response. Your reading and analysis may convince you to take the shocking but affordable step of acquiring your own “Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie.” 🙂

Doug Johnson’s post “Can 4th graders search?” from January 2006 is also worth checking out (including the comments) on this issue, as well as Kathy Schrock’s likely well known site “The ABC’s of Web Site Evaluation.”

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