*This is a cross-post of an entry I wrote for the AASL blog, July 1, 2009*

The role of social media in reporting the events in Iran in recent weeks has highlighted the increasing role of emerging sources of authority and provides some authentic opportunities to engage in rich conversations with students and teachers about evaluation of information sources.   We are hearing more dialogue and a call for school districts to relax filter restrictions so that students may access social media resources like podcasts, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube.   Even mainstream media like CBS News and Time magazine are recognizing the role that social media networks like YouTube/CitizenTube and Twitter are playing in the reporting of news events and how that reporting is impacting the world event itself.  Clay Shirky illustrates this idea with razor sharp clarity in his TED Talk about the impact of social media on world events.

As we forge this brave new world of social scholarship, students and teachers will look to us for guidance in selecting and evaluating social media as valid sources of information.   In recent months, I have increasingly turned to nontraditional sources of information to use in conjunction with traditional authoritative sources to provide students a balanced research pathfinder.

Podcasts can provide valuable and timely information about a research topic.   The Library of Congress just announced this past Tuesday the debut of their iTunesU site which includes videos and podcasts.   I have also found that most podcasts I find in iTunes are available on the web with a RSS feed you can use so that if students are unable to access iTunes at school, then they can still access the podcasts via the web.    Here are some example of pathfinders I’ve created that utilize podcasts:

In the collaborative research pathfinder I’m designing with Dr. Robert Fernekes, Associate Professor and Information Services Librarian at Georgia Southern University, we created an entire tab of podcasts for our Business studies pathfinder page. By searching the Business Podcasts at iTunes, I was able to find podcasts to use; in the pathfinder, we elected to use the web-based feed for the podcasts rather than the specific iTunes links since not all students may have iTunes installed on their computers, but you can  easily include the link iTunes link if desired.  Even if you don’t link to the iTunes version of the podcast, iTunes is a great “search engine” for finding popular and quality podcasts in a particular topic.  iTunesU is also a great resource for quality podcasts (and videocasts, too)—I encourage you to explore the quality resources available.

Blogs can be another source of information and rich dialogue.  Although many blogs do have an obvious bias, a wealth of blogs reflect the thoughts, analysis, and reflections of experts in the field.  Just as we teach students to evaluate print and web resources, we can also scaffold students’ skills in evaluating social media.  This rubric and set of evaluation questions from Joyce Valenza provide librarians the teaching tools to evaluate the validity of the information in a blog.  Here are two examples  in which I incorporated blogs as valid sources of information:

  • In our Business Resources pathfinder, Dr. Fernekes and I scoured the “blog” section of favorite and frequently used business publications.  In addition, I looked at lists of “top business” blogs from reputable websites to find additional blogs to add to the mix.
  • In my Iran Election 2009 pathfinder, I incorporated blogs from reputable journalists as well as Iranian bloggers recommended by newspapers like The Washington Post; Mashable and the Read Write Web websites also provided suggestions for blogs to follow for first-hand accounts of the events in Tehran.

Twitter has received an incredible amount of attention lately for its role in the Iran Elections and protests of 2009.  Thanks to other librarians and educators in my personal learning network as well as The Washington Post, Mashable, and Read Write Web, I incorporated Twitter feeds from reputable journalists such as Ann Curry (NBC) and Lara Setrakian (ABC)  into my Iran Elections/Protests pathfinder; I also incorporated a Twitter feed from Tehran Bureau as well as a RSS feed for a saved search of the Twitter hashtag #Iranelection.  In our Business Resources pathfinder, Dr. Fernekes and I included Twitter RSS feeds from reputable publications such as Wall Street Journal as well as media outlets such as CNN Money.  Earlier this year, I included a Twitter feed from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta the CDC Twitter account as part of my Swine Flu pathfinder.

Video is becoming an increasingly important medium and can be a great “hook” to get students’ interest in a topic.  I have used YouTube videos and videos from sources such as CNN,  CBS News, and ABC News  in pathfinders on Iran, Piracy and Somalia, Paris travel, Swine FluGun Control , Threats to Brazil’s Rain Forests ,  the Peanut Butter-Salmonella recall, and White House and Congress 2.0.  Videos are an essential source of information in my bookmarks  for my Veterans’ Issues research pathfinder.

I also included a saved video search of videos as well as a RSS feed from the CitizenTube video blog in my Iran Elections pathfinder.   In our Business Resources pathfinder, we have included video feed from MSNBC and a feed for the videocasts from The Economist.

Google Map mashups are another exciting new medium for illustrating information.  In my Iran Election/Protests 2009 pathfinder, I included a Google Maps  mashup featuring embassies accepting injured protesters.  My Swine Flu pathfinder includes a striking Google Maps mashup that illustrates the number of confirmed Swine flu/H1Ni1 cases.  For more ideas and resources on how to find and integrate Google Maps mashups into your research pathfinders, check out my bookmarks on Google Maps mashups.

As social scholarship continues to evolve, I feel it is imperative librarians tap into the power of social media and social networks for accessing, organizing, sharing, creating, and embedding information.  The use of social media as authoritative information reflects one of the common beliefs of the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners:

The definition of information literacy has become more complex as esources and technologies have changed.  Information literacy has progressed from the simple definition of using reference resources to find information.   Multiple literacies, including digital, visual, textual, and technological, have now joined information literacy as crucial skills for this century.

Although these Social Networking Literacy Competencies are geared toward public and academic librarians, I feel they are competencies we must master as school librarians to prepare our students to be skilled lifelong learners in what is now an ever shifting landscape of information.  By incorporating social media and social networks as sources of information and as tools for learning, we can help our students master skill 4.1.7, “Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information.”

These AASL standards are also supported by the use of social media as authoritative information:

  • 1.1.5 Evaluate information found in selected sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context.
  • 1.1.7 Make sense of information gathered from diverse sources by identifying misconceptions, main and supporting ideas, conflicting information, and point of view or bias.
  • 1.2.4 Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy of all information.

By using both traditional and emerging sources of authoritative information, we can provide our students a broader menu of information sources for exploration and to ignite learning through research.  If you are interested in more readings on social scholarship, please check out my bookmarked resources. If you have examples of how you are using social media as an information source in your research pathfinders, please post them here to expand our concept how we can integrate social media as an authoritative information source.

Buffy Hamilton, School Library Media Specialist
Creekview High School
Canton, GA