You May Now Use Your Electronic Devices – Google Jockeys and Information Literacy (#EDUSprint)

Number three on my list of five types of mobile learning is the use of student mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops, and such) as “portals to the world outside of the class.”As Ray Kurzweil once said, “Mobile phones are misnamed. They should be called ‘gateways to all human knowledge.'” (Hat tip to Judy Brown.) Many of our students walk into our classrooms with live Internet connections in their pockets. We could tell students to shut off their mobile devices for the duration (as if class were an airplane flight) or we could leverage those Internet connections to enhance what occurs during class.

How to go about this? Well, there’s the idea of designating certain students as “Google jockeys.” These are students whose role in class is to search (using Google or some other search engine) for websites, articles, and other resources relevant to the ongoing lecture or class discussion. When the jockeys find related content of interest, they share that content with the class, perhaps by describing it verbally or by sending a link to the instructor to pull up on the big screen. The goal is to complement what would normally happen during class with additional perspectives and resources from the World Wide Web.

I’ve suggested the use of Google jockeys in the past, but I’m going to push back on the idea right now. Why? Because our librarians (who are awesome) are busy trying to teach our students information literacy, and one of their main lessons is that there’s more to finding useful and reliable information than a simple Google search. Although our students are usually quite comfortable surfing the Web, they’re often not particularly skilled in doing so, at least when the goal is to find quality information. As Willie Miller said during #EDUSprint yesterday: “Mobile access to knowledge is great, but we need ways to assign it source authority. Don’t take digital info at face value.”

Sidebar: I recently wanted to find German or Japanese movies that depicted the cryptography aspects of World War Two. I know of several good American and British movies on the subject, but those movies are told from the perspectives of the “winners” of the cryptography battle during WW2. What kinds of stories do the “losers” of that battle tell? As someone a little more skilled in search than the average freshman, I went about trying to find such movies using the following methods:

  1. I tweeted that I was looking for such movies, hoping that someone who follows me on Twitter might have a lead.
  2. I tweeted Simon Singh, author of The Code Book, a history of cryptography that happens to be the textbook for my crypto seminar. I asked Singh if he knew of any such movies. He didn’t, but he retweeted my inquiry, sharing it with his nearly 17,000 Twitter followers. I also asked Bletchley Park (site of Britain’s WW2 codebreaking successes) and Elonka Dunin (cryptographer with a particular interest in the Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters).
  3. Continuing to leverage my knowledge of the field of cryptography, I searched back issues of the journal Cryptologia, which focuses on the history of cryptography, hoping for a movie review.
  4. Working the movie angle, I searched for various terms on IMDB, Amazon, and Netflix.
  5. I posted my question on Quora, a relatively new site that’s all about asking and answering questions.
  6. Finally, I Googled every related term I could think of. My best lead was this massive Wikipedia list of WW2 films, which, unfortunately, didn’t turn up any movies I hadn’t already ruled out.

My point in sharing this story is that Googling “German film world war two cryptography” might have been an easy first step, but it wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. I needed to tap into every bit of information literacy at my disposal to tackle this challenge.

How can we add a bit of information literacy to the Google jockey idea for mobile learning in the classroom? I can think of two ways:

  • Employ a few students as Google jockeys during class, but make a discussion of the quality of their findings part of the sharing process. That is, have your jockeys talk about the credibility of the source, how they found the item, and so on. Give other students a chance to weigh in on the challenge of finding and assessing the quality of information, and offer your own perspectives on the matter, too. Turn Google jockeying into a teachable moment about information literacy.
  • Alternatively, tell your jockeys where to go looking for material related to the class discussion. Point them towards the resources you find credible and show them how to search those resources for useful information. For me, that might mean Cryptologia and Elonka Dunin’s website. For an astronomy instructor, that might mean NASA’s Galaxy Zoo (for exploring the Hubble space telescope images) or NASA’s New Worlds Atlas (for learning about exoplanets). (Can you tell I sat in on an astronomy class the other day?)

Want to go really mobile? Include QR codes in your slides or handouts that link students to the online resources you want them to use during class. Then all students (at least those with smart phones) have to do is point them at your QR codes and they’re off! (Hat tip to Krista Godfrey for the QR code idea.)

What ideas do you have for having your students make good use of their “gateways to all human knowledge” during class?

Image: “Franken August 2009,” Ralf Schulze, Flickr (CC)

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