MAET: My Info Diet

Education, MSU MAET

Temperatures 1880-2000 to 2100 by Alexander.stohr is under public domain.

I’ve been in an information rut for years. I get my news from the same sources everyday, visit the same blogs, check the same forums. Several of those sources can be described as affinity spaces, where people and tools are “networked in ways that make everyone smarter” (Gee, 2013, p. 174). I’ve realized that most I use are related to hobbies, such as MountainBikeReview and BoardGameGeek. I discovered these resources early on when starting these hobbies and they provided an accelerated method for getting familiar with terminology and making informed purchases.  Some do feed into my teaching, such as joining the i3Detroit hackerspace. These led to ideas and activities for students I would have never considered otherwise. For instance, when I was first touring their space, I mentioned that I didn’t have any experiences with surface mounted device (SMD) soldering, and a long-time member gave me a chance to try it out. It’s that open sharing of information that is a vital aspect of affinity spaces.

Yet I also see the affinity groups I’ve joined as existing within what has been coined a “filter bubble” (Pariser, 2011). At BoardGameGeek, there is a noticeable bias towards so-called “Eurogames”, a certain genre of boardgames, that a new user would have difficulty recognizing. I don’t see an agenda at work here; this simply grew from the interests of the first users. At i3Detroit, while members explore a variety of ways of expressing themselves, the bulk of its members appear to work in similar fields and are predominantly male. I’d be interested in contrasting this space with one with a more diverse membership and how that affects the diversity of ideas and projects.

To broaden my sources of information, I contemplated how to become better attuned with rural Northern Michigan students that I serve. I identified three factors to broaden my horizons with: poverty, hunting/gun culture, and questioning scientific evidence. I added the P.A.P.-Blog as a reading source since it has a series of posts on the causes of poverty. One such post addresses the generalization that an increase in single-parent households leads to a greater chance of children being in poverty, which is an idea I thought made some sense. However, the blog author was able to make the argument with supporting evidence that family structure was not the most important factor in poverty.

I also decided to look at the NRA’s twitter feed. Students in my service area get the start of hunting season off and will often bring in pictures of their trophy bucks, so some value is given to firearms. What I found on the NRA feed was an odd assortment of links to activities that encourage responsible gun use and links to news articles that make no effort to be objective and are often followed by comments from those who are seeking reaffirmation of their beliefs. I could see how this intermingling of purposes could create filter bubbles for young hunters who may not even realize it.

A final blog I chose to follow was Somewhat Reasonable, since it had several articles disputing climate change, one of our prior program topics. Many of these I did not spend much time on since I felt they were not accurately presenting evidence for anthropogenic climate change , but one article gave me pause since it addressed the shortfalls of the scientific method. I wonder how students who may be reading articles such as these approach science class. If they enter their school ready to think more critically and consider the human element of science, then I think that could be valuable.

References

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: How the new personalized Web is changing what we read and how we think. Penguin.

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