Sure, online social networks have potential for outreach and advertising, but can they also be used for instruction?
A common annoyance on MySpace are friend-spammers . I'm not sure what the slang term is, but these are essentially profiles created to direct viewers to another web site. This isn't always as malevolent as the media likes to hype . The most common examples include profile customization tools, web cams, and unsigned bands.
It's sad to see that people actually believe these profiles are real. Users want to believe that some model-hot girl is lonely and sought them out for friendship. And even though she “doesn't really use MySpace much,” encourages you to view her other website. There is tons of this type of thing. Different photos, different angles, different approaches—but all and all, the same objective: click here!
The sad thing is that guys actually fall for it. You can tell because they post public messages to these spam accounts along the lines of “Oh you are so hot—let's meet up this weekend.” People want to believe the fantasy so much, that they can't see they're being deceived.
So, why not start a class looking at such a profile and evaluating it? That's the core of information literacy right? We aim to teach practical skills and lifelong learning, so why not apply it to a common college student experience?
Look for the flaws. Analyze and evaluate the material. Does the fact that she's linking to a fee based site raise any flags or do guys skip the content and focus on the seductive photos? Is there anything in the content that seems false or cliché? What is the overall message or theme within the profile? Why would someone create this profile? How do they profit/benefit? How about those 900+ friends she has? Approach this from the ‘man behind the curtain' via the Wizard of Oz and expose the truth.
Sure, there is some sexual undertones and I can already see some librarian scowling at this idea—but you'd probably have a better chance of capturing their attention and engagement with something like this, rather than starting off with Boolean searching subject headings, and the OPAC.
It also allows you to segue into more traditional content—something like this:
Ok, so let's step out of MySpace now and see how we can apply this to your assignment. Let's say you're doing alternative fuel sources. Here is an article I found online . It seems pretty legit, they've got all these statistics, they've done the research and they even cite a more scholarly publication they've written, which we have right here . So what do we think? They're saying it's not worth it. That ethanol and biodiesel from crops is too much work. Obviously we're not scientists, but what can we tell from the evidence? What can we tell from the way it is presented? Is there bias? Is it creditable? Do we just accept this or do we want to get a second opinion?
Wired magazine just published this article , which essentially refutes the idea—claiming that ethanol is efficient. They also state that the researchers of the original article have ties to the oil industry? How does that change our perception? Why would the oil industry want to discourage alternative fuels? Can we trust Wired? What's their agenda?
This opens up discussion about critical thinking, analysis and resource types. I'd stress the point that you can't believe everything— that you have to read between the lines. Accumulation of articles and information is the easy part, but forming your narrative, your output, that's the real challenge. Then you can go into the old: “I'm going to give you some tips, suggestions, and short cuts for finding resources. Let's start with Academic Search Premier…” And so on.
If MySpace is too risqué, maybe use Apartment Ratings . How many of you live in apartment? How many of you are happy? How many are looking for someplace else to live? Then talk about what's important. What are the key features you look for? Is there a balance between location, price, and comfort? Apartment Ratings is interesting because it's open for comments – for the users by the users. Here is an example: Summit at Lenox . It repeatedly gets negative ratings and comments, is this one person who really hates the place or is it consensus? Notice the post on 04/11/2006 that states:
"The Summit at Lenox sold their property to a new owner and its like a whole new community! All the buildings, elevators, even the pool has been renovated! Maintainance responds to problems promptly and the staff is really nice. I was about to move out and now I'm glad I didnt!"
This is obviously insider perspective. But people can see through it. In the comments posted to this opinion, people see the lie. Get students talking and thinking. Who do we believe? Does is place really suck or is it ok? Does anyone live there? Has anyone seen or visited this place?
Aim to make critical thinking practical and relevant to them, before boring them with journals and database searching.
Of related interest: