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Lazy writing … or pressures of deadlines? May 3, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
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flickr photo by Patty Marvel http://flickr.com/photos/pattymarvel/16304315951 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’m not sure when I started becoming a much more critical reader/consumer of information delivered through the Internet, or whether being ‘picky’ is just a personality trait, but recently one particular stream of information has become an itch I need to scratch.

For some while I’ve found Edudemic to be a helpful source of inspiration and information; its RSS feed has always found a regular place in my reader. From interesting and helpful ideas, emerging educational technologies and provocative articles, I’ve regularly found something to stimulate my thinking. Recently though, my spidey-sense has started to tingle when reading some of the articles. If someone writes

Although 80% of K-12 teachers do have social media accounts, such as Twitter for personal or professional use, most of them don’t integrate them into classroom lessons.

that figure makes me sit up and take notice. 80%? As much as that?! I don’t get the impression from colleagues that it’s as high as that, but maybe I’m missing something. First thing then is to check the source of that figure; the link was, as you can see, helpfully provided.

The survey from which the data arose was undertaken by the University of Phoenix and the article helpfully provided a brief overview of its survey methodology. As an ‘online survey’ wouldn’t it be fair to say that it drew from a skewed population? So rather than 80% of teachers, we’re already at 80% of teachers who would complete an online survey. What we don’t know is how the survey respondents were recruited; it could have been through social media sites and if it was, then how is the 80% figure now looking in terms of being reflective of the whole teaching profession? (The University of Phoenix article did provide contact details for anyone who wanted more details on the methodology, so we could doubtless find our answers)

Having spotted one instance of data perhaps not telling the whole story, other examples started to become apparent. In “Teachers Guide to Polling in the Classroom” we’re told that

Research has shown that students absorb new information into chunks, with 20 minutes being the limit for that information to go from short-term to long-term memory.

Which seems somewhat familiar, but rather than take it on face value, we can follow the helpful link. This take us to a brief article on “Use It, or Lose It! Retaining New Knowledge with E-Polling” within the Colorado State University website. This actually cites what sounds like an academic article (Orlando, 2010) and in the references provides a link … to another brief article on polling technologies. This casually mentions

… it’s been proven that most people can only retain about 20 minutes of content in our short-term memory before we have to reflect on it in order to move it to our long-term memory …

yet fails to tell us where the evidence for this claim can be found. So research may indeed have shown that ‘students absorb new information into chunks,’ but at least do us the courtesy of providing a specific citation for the actual source, rather than bouncing us around a couple of other articles, neither of which provide a foundation for the claim.

A final example (The Four Negative Sides of Technology) offered up plenty of threads at which to pick, including

More than a third of children under the age of two use mobile media.

Whereas what the report actually said was “38% of all children under 2 have ever used a smartphone, tablet, or similar device.” ‘Use’ as opposed to ‘have ever used’ might seem to matter little, but I’d argue there is quite a significant shift in emphasis by changing the phrasing slightly. In the same article there’s

A report from the United Kingdom revealed that kids who use computer games …

where the link doesn’t actually go to a report, but to a Telegraph article about the report, which inevitably includes journalistic license. Why not simply link directly to, and quote from the report itself?

I suppose I’m simply being pedantic, expecting authors who are trying to convey a particular message and who might be on tight deadlines, to be completely rigorous and accurate in their referencing. Or with the impending election here in the UK, perhaps my cynicism filter needs recalibrating. And yet with the ease with which headlines can be quickly bounced around the Internet these days, if people don’t take the time to verify for themselves the claims that are being made within an article and simply take a headline Tweeted out at face value, groupspeak and the echo chamber become the norm. That’s beginning to bother me.

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