April 23

What Are Social Bots?

A DigCit Info Post

You have probably heard people talk about something you find on social media called bots.  You may even have had an experience with bots liking, retweeting, or commenting on your social media posts.  But what exactly are bots?  Are they dangerous?

There was an event on TikTok a few months ago where many users suddenly had hundreds of likes and comments on every single video of theirs from other users with weird names who had no content of their own and who had Asian profile pictures.  Kids got very scared and there were TikTok videos circulating that the people liking and commenting were kidnappers.  It caused some pretty widespread hysteria.  But what these were were not real people, they were automated computer programs called bots that been designed to like and comment on anybody who had posted videos that followed certain criteria.  And they were not dangerous or threatening to TikTok users.

So the bots you find online are automated computer programs and the ones we find on social media are known as SOCIAL BOTS or CHAT BOTS.  These simple automated computer programs look for certain keywords in posts and decide what to comment and/or if to like the post.  To help explain what these automated computer programs do, let’s watch this excellent video on the topic.

So now that you know a lot more about bots, what clues could have helped TikTok users identify their new fans as bots instead of real users?  Post your answers in the comments section of this post!

It is important to note that there are real dangers with bots, and that is their ability to sway public opinion in a certain direction.  This can impact decisions made by governments, made by voters, and made by the general public like you.  For example, seeing that certain TikTok users have more likes than others may persuade you to follow that person, even if all those likes came from bots.

The Atlantic Magazine writes that – ‘About a fifth of all tweets about the 2016 presidential election were published by bots, according to one estimate, as were about a third of all tweets about that year’s Brexit vote. An Oxford Internet Institute report from last year found evidence of bots being used to spread propaganda in 50 countries.’(Schneier, Bruce.  Bots Are Destroying Political Discourse As We Know It, The Atlantic.  Jan 2020).

What this means is that bots are posting about politics and this has the power to influence other people’s opinions about issues that are really important, like who should be the next Prime Minister or whether people should legally have to wear masks in public.  And when the government is looking to social media to find out public opinion on a certain issue, they may instead be finding the opinions of bots that alter the truth of the majority.  Bots are also used to spread a lot misinformation, hate, and racist ideas.

So use your new bot-identifying skills and don’t fall for the opinions of bots!  But if they give you a like, a retweet, or a comment, don’t get too worried about it either.

April 16

The News Literacy Project’s Checkology Program

I wanted to take a moment to highlight an incredible program for our students that is available online.  I have been both impressed and amazed by the work that The News Literacy Project is doing to help build critical thinking skills in students.  The News Literacy Project is a non-profit and nonpartisan organization that is working to educate the public about how to separate fact from fiction in the news and how to assess news credibility.  They have developed an incredibly comprehensive online program called Checkology for middle school  and high school aged students that can be tailored for each classroom.

Checkology consists of about a half a dozen units per grade that cover the essentials of news and media literacy.  These units are often presented by actual news anchors and heads of news or media organizations.  Each unit includes lots of activities for students to test their newfound knowledge through the sorting of video, media, and other content into appropriate categories of information.  It also helps them to understand what makes some content credible and other content not.  And they do all of this while being simultaneously entertaining and engaging!  The clips that they use as examples are timely and relevant and students will feel right at home with the content.


Checkology will become an integral piece of my library programming here at the OJCS.  Media literacy is a key foundation of digital citizenship, and this incredible program can help our students get there.

December 14

Reaching Students Through Nearpod

As a part of my professional development this year, I had the goal of using Nearpod to create lessons that could reach students that I could not see in person.  I wanted to start by creating lessons that would cover essential research skills and then move them on to working on digital citizenship and media literacy.  To that end I created four lessons to date that work to engage students and allow them to practice new skills along the way.

Research Skills

The first one that I created was Using Keywords.  The goal here was to teach students how internet search works, how to search effectively using concise keywords, and to give students a chance to try it out for themselves.  They also learned how generate keywords for much larger search questions.  And finally, I present them with many kid-friendly research sources.  This workshop can be used from grades 4-8 but is specifically for our 4-6s.

The second lesson I created is called In-Text Citations and Bibliographies and was designed specifically for middle school.  Upon entering middle school, citations and bibliographies take on a new level of importance.  This lesson explains to students how critical citations and bibliographies are in avoiding plagiarism.  It demonstrates through a tutorial how to use the citation and bibliography creation tool in Google Docs and it also allows students the opportunity to practice these skills with built-in assignments.

Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy

This lesson on cyberbullying was designed for our 4-6s.  It is a quick lesson on what cyberbullying is and the different forms it takes, how to stop bullies who are bothering you, and how to be an upstander.  This lesson is based more on discussion and collaborative boards than assignments.

And finally, the lesson that I am most proud of and the one that is the culmination of years of running my library workshops is my Nearpod lesson on Information Credibility.  This covers a broad range of topics and is meant to give students a comprehensive knowledge of different forms of misinformation.  It includes several built-in assignments and is a much longer lesson that could cover two periods or more.

It is my hope that these lesson become a valuable resource to our teachers and can be used year after year.  It is also my hope that they can be used in other schools to facilitate teaching these key skills.  I am looking to solicit feedback from any teacher who uses these lesson with their classes.  Please post your feedback in the comments here or send me an email b.ruel@theojcs.ca

 

November 16

Learning to Assess Information Credibility with my Favourite Tree Octopus

A Fun Lesson for our grades 3-5 students

Each student will need a device for this activity.  You will share the link to the following site with your students.

https://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/  

Teachers will then need to print the web evaluation checklist.  Click the button on the upper right hand corner ‘pop out’.  Only print page 1.  Students will fill it in to determine if this website is credible or not.

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When they have formed their conclusions, you can explain that the last step, lateral reading, is often the fastest way to fact-check information and can be your FIRST step.  Running a Google search on the topic and or the author or site name can often provide you with everything you need to know.  And following the rule of three, checking information against two other sources, is also a wonderful strategy to use.

Finish by sharing this great video!

October 7

The Sad Little Fact – Being a Fact-Finder in the Age of Misinformation

A fake fact is otherwise known as MISINFORMATION…

Misinformation is ‘false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.’

Where do we hear this misinformation?  Unfortunately, the online world is absolutely full of it.  From youtube videos, to tiktok, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, people are bombarded with fake facts and fake news.  Here is an example of misinformation that I found on youtube.

If you saw this video online you’d be terrified.  You might tell your friends about it and spread this information further.  So how do we verify if it is true or not?

Now it’s your turn to give this a try.  I need you to be a fact-checker and find out if this information is true or not using the techniques we just learned.

  1. Check the source – run a Google Search on the publisher or author of the information and try to find out more
  2. The Rule of Three – check three other sources of information
  3. Check a good fact-checking website like Snopes.

So here is the information I want you to check.  It was posted thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter by regular people so there is no author to check.  You will need to rely on method 2 and 3 here.

 

 

June 1

Life Hacks That Seem Impossible Likely Are

There has been a rise in the past year of viral video ‘life hacks’ or ‘kitchen hacks’ depicting recipes or experiments that create impossible results.  These videos have kids rushing to try out these sometimes dangerous experiments thinking that incredible things will happen, only to be left disappointed that it didn’t work for them.

What’s wrong with posting these kind of hoaxes online?  They contribute to the growing problem of misinformation.  That is, spreading information that simply isn’t true.  In some cases, they are also putting children in danger.  Bleaching strawberries, making popcorn with a clothes iron, microwaving things that shouldn’t be microwaved, playing with hot glue, plugging random things into electrical sockets are just a few examples of potentially dangerous hacks.  One woman in England ended up in hospital after trying a life hack where you boil eggs still in their shell in the microwave!  In the following video, Chris Foxx tries out some recipe hacks to see if they work.

In this video Lifehacker explains what is wrong with creating pointless hack videos.

This video, made as a joke, shows how silly and simple making these types of videos can be. He uses a lot of squishies to make it look convincing.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  Make a fake life hack or kitchen hack video!  Yes, you heard right.  The best way to learn about the ridiculous nature of incredible and untrue hack videos is to make one yourself.  Maybe you will use baking soda to transform an apple into an orange.  Or put toothpaste in chocolate chip cookies to make them mint chocolate chip.  The sky is the limit with this assignment.  If you would like to share with me, I will post your fake hacks on this page.  Send your videos to b.ruel@theojcs.ca.

Our student lifehack videos!  Amazing work.

May 19

Media Violence and Reality

Part 1 – Movies versus real life

 

In a superhero movie, you often see the superhero killing or hurting the bad guys and you feel happy about it.  Your good guy is winning the fight or saving the world, right?  But if the movie was real life, what would happen if a good guy hurt or killed a bunch of people (even if they were bad!)  Would the good guy get arrested?  Would he have to go to court?  Maybe go to jail?  How would he feel about what he had done?

Movies, tv shows, and video games do a really good job of helping us to forget about the real world for a little while by telling us an exciting story.  But it is easy to forget that the way violence happens in the media isn’t the way violence happens in real life.  In real life, the consequences of violence are very serious!!

In school, if we pretend to be Spider-man and punch our friend because we are pretending he is Venom, what would happen to us?  How much trouble would we be in, from our parents and our teachers?

QUESTIONS – Choose just ONE to answer in the comments on this blog page

1.In video games you are often shooting or fighting other players to try to defeat them.  This is how you win the game.

What would happen if you used violence to win something in real life?

2. Every action movie seems to have have a crazy car chase, car explosion, or car crash scene.  

In real life what would happen if there was a big crash like this on the road or highway?  

3. In superhero movies the hero always kills a whole lot of villains and bad guys.  

In real life what would happen to someone who did these things?

4. In video games and movies when people get shot or injured they bounce right back and keep fighting.  

In real life what happens if you get seriously hurt?

Part 2 – Violence and Our Feelings

Here is a very violent scene from a movie you’ve all probably seen, Beauty and the Beast.

Watch this scene and then pay close attention to how it makes you FEEL.  Does it make your chest get tight?  Your heart race fast?  Your stomach turn?  Did you close your eyes?  All of these feelings and reactions are your body feeling stress from what you are seeing, and it is important that we learn to notice these kinds of feelings.  I know that watching things that are violent make me nervous and it’s hard for me to sleep at night when I watch them, so I avoid them.  That is an easy solution.  Another solution is to remember that what we are seeing in movies, tv, and video games is not real.  That can be very reassuring to remember.  The people are actors.  Writers have written everything that happens in the story.  In this clip Gaston and the Beast are just drawings made by artists.

If something that you’ve seen really bothers you, always talk to your parents about it.  They can have helpful advice for handling those feelings.

Next time you notice violence in media, remember that it is made to entertain people but is a far cry from how things are done or should be done in the real world.  It is important that we always use our words and not our fists to solve problems in the real world.

 

May 12

C is for Cookie

Middle School Digital Literacy Lesson

Whenever you visit a new site, you will most often get a message notifying you that the site uses cookies.  Sometimes it will give you an option to choose to continue with cookies or not.  You may have felt very confused about what a cookie was… is it a good thing or a bad thing?  Could it harm my computer or device?

Or maybe you were talking about something with your device near at hand, and then noticed an ad for something connected to what you were talking about an hour later.  Coincidence?  Not at all.  This video explains how and why this happens, and what exactly a cookie is.

Your Assignment:

After watching the video, I want you to pair up with a friend who you share often with on social media.  Imagine you are trying to collect data from each other’s information to target them with ads.  What can you find out about your friend that would help you target products to them?  Example:  I notice that my friend is always posting photos of her dog online.  If I were an advertiser, I would target her with ads for fancy dog toys, furniture, and biscuits.  She often comments about how much she misses her family in Israel.  I would target her with ads for chat products like Houseparty, Zoom, etc…  See how many you can come up with.  Write them in a Google Doc and submit to b.ruel@theojcs.ca

April 21

House Hippos and Cabbits

First we are going to watch a video about the North American House Hippo…

When this video started, for a moment did you believe that this could be real or did you know immediately that it was not?  What were some of the reasons you did or didn’t believe it?  How could we be sure?

Some of the most important skills we need to be a great digital citizen are our critical thinking skills.  A big part of critical thinking is our ability to find out if what we are seeing, reading, or hearing is true or not.  There are some easy quick tricks we can use to verify (which means to check out or investigate) information.

So let’s try one of the easiest tricks.

Here is a picture that I found online a Cabbit.  Online it says it is a cross between a cat and a rabbit.  Isn’t it adorable?

So let’s run a Google Search on the information we want to verify.  So open up Google and type the word cabbit in the search box.  Or, if you’re on an ipad or have a home assistant, ask it out loud what a cabbit is.  What did you discover from a simple search?  Is it real or fictious (not real, imaginary).  Type your answers in the comments on this page.

This shows us that the fastest way to check if information is true or not is to look around… look in other places!  Check a couple of different websites.  See if what else you can find out.  Websites we use to find information are called our sources.  Always check more than one source, especially if something sounds fishy!

Here is a video that offers you a few more special tricks you can use when you are choosing websites and videos to use for your research projects.  Write down the 5w’s so that you can remember them when you need them!