If you’ve been following the news out of Iran the last few days, odds are you’re following it very differently from even a few years ago. Ten years ago, most of what I would have learned would have come from the TV news or the New York Times the day after. Five years ago, it was the New York Times or other traditonal media websites that I probably would have turned to. Today, however, for me at least, it’s Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and then the New York Times website. It’s a bit of a different process, I’d say.
While we’ll wait to see how social tools affect the outcome in Iran, we can’t wait to begin to teach ourselves and our kids how to make sense of media that we ourselves have to edit. The complexities here are huge, in both an information and technological context. We’re reading and viewing content created by people whose identities and agendas are unkown to us. While much of it is raw, we can’t know how much of it is made to look raw, how much of it has been edited, how much of it is true. I can read the Tweet above and believe it, or I can wait for confirmation. I can do what all good journalists have done throughout time which is verify and reverify before believing and reporting.
The difference is, obviously, is that I have to do this for myself. I now have access to the raw information, the stuff that I used to pay for someone else to find and sift and synthesize and share. I can choose to continue to take that route, certainly, to only check the reputable media outlets for updates and “news”. But if I do that these days I deny myself a greater understanding of not just how to consume all of this but how to participate in it. I’m not in Iran (thankfully) but I can still share the best of what I find about Iran for others in my network. I don’t take that task lightly, because I want to be a trusted contributor. I want others to share with me so that we can sift and filter and synthesize and contribute the best of our resources and thinking. As Donald Leu writes, these days “we read online as authors, and we write online as readers.” And, I would add, we need to read and write as editors as well.
I know that we should have been teaching these skills and processes all along with every piece of information we read or shared. But the reality is that we as an educational system haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Right now, however, we and our kids simply can’t get away with not having these skills any longer. I know the school year is over for many, but for those that are still in session, welcome to a teachable moment about the world, democracy, technology, media, and most of all, participation.