Free MOOC shows how to verify web content

From faked photos to false information, the Internet is awash with “facts” that are lies.

“Navigating Misinformation,” a new, free MOOC from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, which starts March 25. will teach you how to verify social media content, breaking news, photos and videos.

The instructor for “Navigating Misinformation” is Clarie Wardle, co-founder and leader of First Draft, an organization dedicated to supporting journalists, academics, and technologists working to address challenges related to trust and truth in the digital age.

I realize it’s short notice and March-April is a tough time for educators to make room in their schedules for another activity, but “Navigating Misinformation”  looks like a great course for English teachers, media specialists, librarians, and school administrators.

Some of you may also have students with an interest in the topic.

I’ve taken MOOCs and credit-bearing courses from several big name universities. None of them rose to the quality of courses that the Knight Center gives away free.

The course has no live sessions that you must attend at a given time. The course is divided into four weekly modules, with videos, readings, discussion questions, and a weekly quiz. You log in to do each module’s work at days and times that are convenient for you.

If such things matter to you, you can even apply for a certificate of successful completion, but that requires paying a fee.

Again, the course starts Monday, March 25, 2019. Here’s where you can register for the MOOC.

A wild goose chase: Seeking Little Black Sambo

Two weeks ago I ran across a news story about a Black History Month exhibit that included a copy of The Story of Little Black Sambo, published in 1899.

To refresh my memory of the story, I went to Project Gutenberg, where I found a copy of Little Black Sambo written by Helen Bannerman and illustrated by Florence White Williams.

I remember as a child hearing the expression “the grandest tiger in the jungle,” but nothing else in the story seemed familiar.

It’s clear from the text that the story is set in India, so how did the Southern Black stereotyped figures get into the book?

I found out that the author of the story, Helen Bannerman, was from Edinburgh, Scotland. She married a man who was a physician and officer in the Indian Medical Service. They moved to India, where they lived for 30 years. They raised four children in what is now known as Channai.

Little Black Sambo was first published by Grant Richards in 1899 in London. Bannerman is listed as both author and illustrator of that edition. I can’t think of any reason for Bannerman to use American racial stereotypes in the British empire, but I cannot find any images from that edition to show that she didn’t. There are references to Bannerman’s “cartoonish” style being the reason for publishers not using her art in later editions. 

In 1900, an edition of Little Black Sambo was printed in the US by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. It may have looked like this. White Williams was too young to have done the illustrations for that.

(White Williams’ birth year is variously listed as 1888, 1895, 1900 and both 1888 and 1900.  She would have been roughly the same age as the Bannerman children.)

I’ve found references to White Williams doing Sambo art for 1918 and 1919 editions of the book, but no images.

There were many knock-off copies of Sambo published up through 1923 when Stokes labeled that year’s product “The Only Authorized American Edition.” That was just about the time Florence White Williams was making a name for herself as an illustrator and artist, but I can’t find any source that says who did the illustrations for the “authorized edition.”

I’ve spent a whole day trying to figure out how Little Black Sambo was transformed from the story of a clever Indian boy to a story about race in the American south, and I’m no closer to knowing than when I began.

I guess this is what’s called lifelong learning.

3 articles worth reading and debating

These three articles captured in my RSS feed reader caught my eye today. Perhaps they’ll interest you as well.

1. Is the Internet Changing Kids’ Minds?

In this excerpt from his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, Daniel T. Willingham argues that the brain is always changing; there’s no reason to assume the Internet is damaging kids’ brains so they can’t concentrate.

What is problematic, Willingham says, is that using digital technologies of all types change users’ expectations: Users are impatient with boredom. They expect instant success with minimal effort.

That sounds like an education problem to me. What do you think?

2. In a Changing Rural America, What Can Charter Schools Offer?

I’ve seen many articles about how school choice championed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos won’t help — and may hurt — rural areas. This article by Terry Ryan and Paul Hill at Education Next suggests that charters, properly done, could be an alternative to school consolidations in sparsely populated areas.

If you live in a rural area, you ought to read their short piece.

3. Why do college students have 6th-grade writing skills?

That question was the headline over an e-Campus News report on a research study by peer-to-peer learning markeplace StudySoup. StudySoup’s own headline was “At Which U.S. Colleges do Students Write at a Middle School Level?”

Educators need to take a look at the StudySoup data: It’s the sort of “research” that will grab media attention and get discussed over coffee at the local diner.

A team from the business used the Hemingway app to analyze hundreds of written documents submitted to the StudySoup . The app evaluated the samples for clarity, readability, and calculated the reading level of the writing. The average reading level score was 12th-grade level. Student work was also given a second score based on how difficult individual sentences were to read. Of the 20 schools from which writing samples were analyzed, 12 were graded “poor.”

The app doesn’t look to see whether writers have anything to say; it looks just at their individual sentences.

Notice that StudySoup assumes that the higher the reading level score the better the writing is. Actually, the higher the reading level, the smaller the audience that will be able to understand it: Here’s StudySoup’s own explanation of Hemingway which supports that interpretation:

Hemingway provides two “readability” scores for each document. The first is the “grade level” of the content, which is determined using a readability algorithm. According to Hemingway, this score determines “the lowest education needed to understand your prose”.

Google’s privacy policy and schools

Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.
Supreme Court, Washington D.C.

As you are probably aware, Google is changing its privacy policy March 1. If you or your school use any of Google’s 60 applications—from g-mail to YouTube—or visit sites that use Google service, the changes will affect you.

By agreeing to Google’s new privacy policy, you allow Google to combine all the data it has about you and mine that data. You also agree to let Google turn over that information to any government agency that asks for it.

Getting rid of all Google services by March 1—the date the company’s new privacy policy goes into effect—would be a nightmare. And the alternative to accepting Google’s privacy policy is to not use any of its services.

Europeans are not happy with Google’s proposed policy. They know what can happen when a government gains access to data about citizens held by private organizations. They saw it in the old Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, and they see it today as government-sponsored terrorists assassinate relatives of their political opponents continents away.

Schools silent on privacy policy implications

Aside from newspapers and a handful in the Congress, Americans don’t seem a bit bothered by the new policy. Schools are notably silent on the topic, although the potential ramifications of this move for schools is enormous.

Schools are pushing for teachers to use Google documents, Google Voice, YouTube, Google Scholar. They show teachers how to use class Gmail accounts to get students access to websites and use blogger to set up their own accounts.

I  hadn’t paid much attention to the implications of the privacy policies I signed, either. It was not until I clicked a link on Twitter and got a message from Google thanking me for joining YouTube that I realized where the policy change could lead.

My local school district uses a Google site as its website. By setting up a Google site, the school board signed a contract with Google. That contract gave Google the right to:

access, preserve, and disclose your account information and any Content associated with that account if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to:
(a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request,
(b) enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof,
(c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), or
(d) protect against imminent harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law. [italics added]

Google doesn’t say it will turn over documents in response to a legally executed search warrant. All an agency has to do is ask.  And Google doesn’t have to notify you that you are the object of a search. In effect, by using a Google service you waive your Constitutional right to protection from unlawful search and seizure.

I don’t know whether anyone on my local school board read—really read—the contract the school signed. They should have, but I suspect no one did any more than I did when I signed up for a host of Google services.

The real question is, what do we do now?

Petition for a delay in policy implementation

I am not unaware of the irony of posting this tirade on blogger, a Google service. However, given how little notice Google gave of the policy change, I’d have to do nothing but replace Google services for the next 10 days in the hope of meeting the March 1 deadline. So I’ve done the one thing I could do immediately: I’ve signed a petition asking for a delay in  putting the policy into effect, giving more time for consideration of the ramifications of the policy.

More information 

CNN: Google knows too much about you

The Washington PostGoogle privacy policy: Who will be affected and how you can choose what information gets shared

The Daily Mail (UK) ‘Google will know more about you than your partner’: Uproar as search giant reveals privacy policy that will allow them to track you on all their products

Forbes: Google’s New Privacy Policy: When Consumers’ Worlds Collide, the Company Stands to Profit

New York Times: F.T.C. Tells Consumer Watchdog to Mind Its Own Business

Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, DC uploaded by davidlat  http://www.sxc.hu/photo/657696

[Note: After this post was uploaded, I moved the blog to wordpress and closed all my Google accounts.]