The CRAP Test Doesn’t Work?

Mike Caulfield (@holden on Twitter) delivered a keynote a long while back which I only caught on twitter by way of others posts. It’s interesting that one of his comments was that the CRAP Test Doesn’t work in a world filled with misinformation. Now, the fact that the CRAP Test isn’t a widely taught technique, nor that the real components that one needs to do (including such archaic things as WHOIS searching, and name searches geolocation of posts by IP and cross referencing with known authorities) something that the general public doesn’t​ do. It’s too much work. So sure, that aspect of it “doesn’t work”, but the underlying skills founded in skepticism work. If you use them. I think that’s an important distinction. To say the tool doesn’t work because the person doesn’t use it is a bit disingenuous.

Most people don’t, because they take a short cut, because it was a parent, in-law or someone they know and trust who forwarded it. Or it already fits their point of view. Or it passed a superficial sniff test. And that’s where the conspiracy theory peddlers make money. And much like advertising where it’s not effective the first time you see the ad and think you need a new sofa, it’s the thirtieth time when you actually need a sofa, that your brain brings up the ad you saw repeatedly.

The public has been primed for this for years. It’s essentially advertising that has replaced truth. It’s bullshit that’s replaced truth. It’s repetition that’s replaced truth.

And with that, the Internet has ended. Well, the Internet that held hope for a lot of educators, for a lot of activists, for a lot of free thinkers and artists. For marginalized folks. If we take this as a parrallel to punk rock – which exploded in 1976 with diversity of sound and voice, and quickly marginalized people by 1979 by getting harder, faster and more straightforward, we can see what the future of a “free” Internet will look like. Lots of the same, but with pockets of interesting, but marginal works. Except this time, we got close to 10 years of the web before it became an advertising platform for bullshit, junk and waste, with some good information out there.

This is the end of truth:

What conspiracy theorists, bullshit peddlers, technology hacks, blackmailers, and those who value lies over truth want has won. Technology has helped them get there faster than we can manage. And no one is working on a way to fight this bullshit, because there’s no money in a truth serum.

Mechanical Reproduction of the Internet

I’ve been reading Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (PDF) as a part of the Communication studies class I’m taking at Athabasca. It’s dense, but makes a lot of sense to me. Particularly his writing about film, and how anyone can be an “actor” in film, sometimes by accident even. Certainly that might have been the case in the 1920’s, but as further commercialization of the film industry occurred, less people and more “actors” appear in constructed states. Sure, documentaries are different, but the expectation of reality in a documentary is much higher than a film.  To me, this is the same sort of premise that YouTube and video sharing sites get people to contribute content – even you can be the object of attention on YouTube. I see parallels between early film and online video, with a big exception – online video has years of experience with video and film to draw upon so it’s been getting quicker up to speed. Online video where everyone can be an actor is slowly giving way to online actor, but without an audience. Celebrity and online personas are becoming big business, which means as soon as advertising figures out how to get their products placed, and I’m sure they have already figured it out, they’ll really start investing in the folks who are online. I’ve seen my kid, who is an online producer and re-producer, scrutinize someone else’s room online as well as look for clues as to who a person is through their videos. This is advertising at it’s best, getting that word of mouth without paying a dime in ads.

In many ways, advertisers haven’t had to cajole or convince us, we often do the promotion for them. I talk fondly of Desire2Learn, who haven’t paid me to say so, but I do so because I think their product is superior to Blackboard. No one convinced me to say that. At least I think no one convinced me to say that. Or write that. Oh… slippery slope here I go!

Attention and Aesthetics

Aesthetics are one of the tools that advertisers can use to distract, deflect criticism or deceive. In websites, each viewer has a minimum standard for aesthetics that must be met or else they will go elsewhere. The content is irrelevant  in this initial snap judgement of the worth of the site despite how well thought out, how good or how useful it is. Aesthetics are assessed almost instantaneously in an intellectual and instinctual way. By getting people to start paying attention to aesthetics, we can increase the intellectual assessment of aesthetics.

EDIT: In a fit of irony, I’m being distracted too much to do this subject justice.

EDIT: OK, now at a different venue, I can continue.

Paying attention to aesthetics is important for instructors because while good, tasteful learning spaces can assist learners in making good choices in what to pay attention to, ugly spaces make it difficult for learners to learn. Students already have a myriad of barriers in front of them, why add more?

Sure, I suppose I’m advocating that teachers invest time in “selling” their content – but that’s what we’re doing (poorly) already. And the model we’ve all been working under is not working for the intended audience. They aren’t buying what we’re selling – or if they are, they are doing so because they feel they have no other choice. With more choice introduced to the educational model, for-profit education that guarantees jobs, does it at an accelerated pace, and provides external accreditation with industry standards (such as many for-profit College’s computer programming programs in Ontario).  We can’t wait for change to effect us, we need to flip the model and effect change.

Subpar and mediocre learning spaces need to be dealt with. Even if you have no technical skills, you should be able to style a page by choosing fonts, colors and sizes from a menu. All LMS’s have HTML editors built-in. Use them at a minimum.

If you have no “eye” for design, start to develop one. Pay attention to sites that appeal to you – and start thinking about them critically. Find out what works for you and repeat it in your own work. We ask students to do this – why not apply these rules to yourself as well?