Friday, January 20, 2012

New tools, same old problems: curation and media literacy

I've been trying to find, to no avail, the source for the quote: "If it isn't written down, it didn't happen."
And of course, the flip-side, "If it's written down, it must be true."

In light of Apple's announcement on their iBooks Author program and the release of iBooks 2, there's been a flurry of discussion of how this is the nail in the textbook industry's coffin. Maybe...but likely not.

The truth is, we NEED curators, and that's what the textbook industry is. For all of their (many) faults, textbooks try to collect and document information to provide a basis for what constitutes being educated. (I'm resisting adding quotes around the key words in that sentence...) As long as we are depending on others to do the curation for us, we are subject to their biases. When I wrote my Master's thesis on media literacy, I had no idea that it would become exponentially more important to develop those critical thinking and analysis skills; at the time, I was focused on subliminal gender and political biases perpetrated through marketing and journalism. I focused my media literacy curriculum on questioning the source and asking questions like:

  • what information is being communicated? 
  • why are they choosing to communicate that information? 
  • what information is being left out? 
  • how do the intrinsic biases of the people making those decisions shape what others are being led to believe?
  • who has differing viewpoints or counter information? 
  • what information are the authors basing their message on?
  • how does it benefit the author for you to believe his/her message?
I could go on and on. 

The point is, EVERY communication is biased, but where journalism, media agencies, and even educational curriculum developers (eg, textbook publishers) are concerned, we are not usually taught to consider the source. 

We should always consider the source. We all need to become curators.

Even more challenging is our brain's awesome and frightening ability to create fabricated memories based on our biases. We need documentation and curation to prevent not just the biases of others, but our own personal biases, from rewriting history.

Not all opinions are created equal and not all "facts" or "truth" are created equal either. The goal of "fair and balanced" shouldn't just apply to political journalism, it should apply to any content we consume. Collect data, consider the source, examine the biases...don't confuse opinion with fact.

As the opportunity for curation and publication becomes more readily available, the need for media literacy, critical analysis of content, and curation skills become increasingly important. I'm thrilled that tools are becoming available that are challenging the stranglehold of textbook publishers. But the bigger question is, are we prepared for the responsibility inherent in the use of those tools? 

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