Is it fake nature, or is it a story?

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Is it fake nature, or is it a story? I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

First, I'd like to explore the "Is it fake nature" part of my post's title:

"The 1958 Disney documentary into lemmings that won the academy award. Footage of lemmings jumping off cliffs was later found out to be faked. Edited version just showing the fake footage."

My guess is that most of you reading this post are not old enough to have watched the above television show when it was first broadcast in 1958.  (I will admit that I remember it vividly.  It was one of the first colour TV shows I saw as a child on our family's new colour TV set.)  Imagine my surprise and horror (Disney "cheated"???) when it was learned that it wasn't a "real" documentary at all, but that the lemming scene had been faked. (See Lemming Suicide Myth Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior, The Truth about Norwegian Lemmings, White Wilderness.)

I thought about this recently when I read How Nature Documentaries are Fake: A Filmmaker’s Perspective, by DL Cade, on PetaPixel.  Cade writes:

"When you watch nature documentaries like the BBC’s famous Planet Earth series, do you take for granted that everything you’re seeing is 100% real? We wouldn’t blame you if you did, but as Simon Cade of DSLRguide explains in this video, you’d be wrong....While the amount of “manipulation” that takes place in the cutting room of a nature doc varies with the editor and how far the producer is willing to push the truth, the fact is: every nature documentary is edited to tell a story."  Watch the video below, and read the post, and think about it through the lens of "fake news".

Cade ends with a question: "Is it disappointing that nature docs, even the best ones, are at least somewhat manipulated to help tell a story and engage their audience? Sure. But the music-less 24 hour live stream called “reality” is probably not your idea of the perfect nature documentary either."

Let's check that out with a few nature live-streams. How long can you watch one of  these streams, with no story line, and little/no sound? Nature in motion: live cameras from around the world,  Audubon Top 10 Wildlife Web Cams, Explore,  offer lots of choices.  Some have natural sound, but most are silent. Some are "professional" setups from zoos and sanctuaries, and some or "home-made" setups focused on bird feeders or fish tanks. You'll probably want to choose one in your own time zone, so as not to be staring at a dark, night-time screen from the other side of the world (or, look for nocturnal animals in your own time zone!).

To read more about this subject, see  These Are Some Of The Sketchy Ways Nature Documentaries Are Actually Filmed,
'Er, this bit isn't real': New David Attenborough series will tell viewers which shots are faked,
BBC 'fakes wildlife shots all the time': Veteran cameraman claims species 'smaller than rabbits' are filmed on custom-built sets 

And one last video.
" I am shocked that many people cannot see the computer generated imagery in this scene from BBC's Planet Earth documentary. In the past the BBC has been accused of faking scenes in its documentaries. I am not disputing the camera crew was not there, because they was. I'm not saying they didn't film snakes and iguanas, because they did. What I am saying is that this specific chase scene in this video was fabricated using CGI, to enhance the drama and entertainment of the moment. " (link)

What do you think? Is a heavily edited, CGI-ed nature documentary "fake news" using free actors? Should we be looking at them far more critically than we used to? Can we use them in the classroom without very critical analysis? Should such a nature documentary move from a science classroom to the IT lab, as a lesson in how to create digital stories?

Choosing & Using Sources

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs siteChoosing & Using Sources. I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

This morning Nik Peachy shared a free, online or downloadable text book  Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries.   Thinking about the IB DP IA and EE work, I decided to have a look.
Cover of “Choosing & Using Sources” by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries

“Choosing & Using Sources presents a process for academic research and writing, from formulating your research question to selecting good information and using it effectively in your research assignment. Additional chapters cover understanding types of sources, searching for information, and avoiding plagiarism. Each chapter includes self-quizzes and activities to reinforce core concepts and help you apply them. There are also appendices for quick reference on search tools, copyright basics, and fair use.
Written by Ohio State University Libraries’ Office of Teaching & Learning, this attractive book is targeted to college students and their instructors.” https://library.osu.edu/blogs/choosingsources/  
The book has received many 5 star reviews from college faculty and librarians,  which are  posted on the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library page. I share just two paragraphs from among them:
“This text is a comprehensive review of the various types of sources one might need to complete a research project or paper. The book begins with a clear explanation of how to formulate a research question, while the majority of the chapters focus on finding and evaluating sources. The topics in this text are well-chosen and reflect several aspects of academic writing in which beginning researchers might struggle, such as how to do a precision search, understanding biased versus unbiased sources, and how to decide between quoting or paraphrasing. This book is written at a level that undergraduates should easily be able to comprehend, while the content of the chapters gets increasingly detailed and complex throughout the book. There is no index or glossary at the back of the book, but there is a very complete table of contents at the beginning of the text. Readers might find it useful if the chapter titles in the table of contents were in bold, as the detailed breakdown of sections—while helpful—can be overwhelming when one is looking for the main categories of the book.” (Reviewed by Heather Jerónimo, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Iowa, on 2/9/2017.)
“This text is very readable and easy to understand. Concepts are explained clearly. Exercises and examples are provided to help students grasp each new concept. It is written in a casual tone that appears to make an effort to put its readers at ease while giving solid information about how to complete research and writing assignments successfully.” (Reviewed by Jennifer Lantrip, Reference Librarian, Umpqua Community College, on 2/9/2017.)
To give you a feel for the book, here are a few paragraphs and an infographic from Chapter 4, Precision Searching: Why Precision Searching?:
The steps in a precision search
“Starting with a research question helps you figure out precisely what you’re looking for. Next, you’ll need the most effective set of search terms – starting from main concepts and then identifying related terms. Those search terms need to be organized in the most effective way as search statements, which you actually type into a search box.
An important thing to remember is that searching is an iterative process: we try search statements, take a look at what we found and, if the results weren’t good enough, edit our search statements and search again—often multiple times. Most of the time, the first statements we try are not the best, even though Google or another search tool we’re using may give us many results.
It pays to search further for the sources that will help you the most. Be picky.”
“Source evaluation usually takes place in two stages:
  • First you try to determine which sources are credible and relevant to your assignment.
  • Later, you try to decide which of those relevant and credible sources contain information that you actually want to quote, paraphrase, or summarize. This requires a closer reading, a finer examination of the source.
This lesson teaches the first kind of evaluation—how to weed out sources that are irrelevant and not credible and how to “weed in” those that are relevant enough and credible enough.
Because there often aren’t clear-cut answers when you evaluate sources, most of the time you have to make inferences–educated guesses from available clues–about whether to use information from the website or other source.
The clues are factors you should consider when trying to decide whether a source is:
  • A relevant source of information – Is it truly about your topic and from the right time period?
  • A credible source of information – Is there sufficient reason to believe it’s accurate? “
I think this book could be a very useful resource for IB students in both the DP and MYP faced with what for many can be daunting writing assignments.  It could provide a sort of hand-holding comfort for students who are new to academic writing, or for whom a 4000 word research paper seems overwhelming.  It might also be a useful teaching tool to those guiding academic writing assignments.

Encoding and Decoding

My most recent article has been posted over on the OSC IB Blogs site: Encoding and Decoding. I've re-posted it below. Visit the OSC-IB Blogs site and explore the posts on other areas of interest for students and for teachers.

Anyone connected to ICT and education is familiar with the word "code" - and recently "Teach the kids to code" is all the rage. It usually implies that we should teach kids the fundamentals of computer programming. (In this post I'm going to use the word "kids" as a code word for "learner of any age".)

But if you think about it, we also teach kids to code, as in reading and writing, all their lives, all the time.  Let's explore this thought a little:

Coded messages
Most kids love exploring the idea of speaking and writing messages in code.  (Did you ever try Pig-Latin? Idday ouyay everway ytray Igpay Atinlay? )   Can you decode the sample of pig-latin in this audio file?

Look at the links below to refresh your memory about simple codes. (sedoc elpmis tuoba yromem ruoy hserfer ot woleb skinil eht ta kooL)  Perhaps you would like to practice with Sherlock Holme's Adventure of the Dancing Men.
 Dancing Men Cipher - can you decode it?

Visit the links below for more digital ways of honing your coding skills:

Security and historical codes
Although the stories of codes used during World War II are fascinating parts of history (Navajo code breakers, and Bletchly Manor come to mind),  Morse code is a more useful and easily learned "real" code.  Can you decode the sample of Morse code in this audio file?


Teach the kids to code!
Teaching kids to code has literally become child's play. Coding is thinking and planning in order to make things happen, and most people can do that, and indeed, spend their days doing it constantly in one form or another.  Look at articles linked below for more thoughts about why formal coding is an important part of any education:

"Coding isn't just for computer whizzes," says Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab, "it's for everyone." Watch this 2013 TEDx video in which Resnick outlines the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just "read" new technologies.

Computer code
On his webpage, David C. Zentgraf  writes to us all about why anyone who reads and writes on a computer - even if it is only emails - needs to know some code background. "A computer cannot store "letters", "numbers", "pictures" or anything else. The only thing it can store and work with are bits. A bit can only have two values: yes or no, true or false, 1 or 0 or whatever else you want to call these two values. Since a computer works with electricity, an "actual" bit is a blip of electricity that either is or isn't there. For humans, this is usually represented using 1 and 0 ...To use bits to represent anything at all besides bits, we need rules. We need to convert a sequence of bits into something like letters, numbers and pictures using an encoding scheme, or encoding for short." His article is long, and interesting.  I urge you to get a cup of tea, and at least skim it, bookmark it, and go back to again another time.

Encoding and decoding - as in "reading and writing"
Encoding and decoding are the building blocks of reading. Words, visuals, media - whatever your brain needs to understand and/or produce. "Decoding means translating written words into the sounds and meanings of spoken words (often silently). Encoding, or spelling, is the reverse process. The skills used in encoding are usually developed alongside decoding skills and reflect similar learning.” (Read more about the nuts and bolts of encoding and decoding language in the first link below).
On his web page, Kosarra writes about encoding and decoding data in charts, but his diagram describes the process in any medium.  Writing about making charts from data, Kosarra says "When a program draws a bar chart, it calculates the length of the bars from the numbers it’s supposed to represent. When it draws a pie chart, it calculates angles. When it draws a scatterplot, it looks at two numbers for each data point and turns those into coordinates to draw a shape. We understand the encoding part very well. There’s nothing mysterious about how a chart comes about, it’s a mechanical process."  He then describes the process of decoding various chart styles. "When it comes to decoding, things get a lot messier. What do we decode? We like to assume that decoding just reverses the encoding: we read the values from the visualization. But not only don’t we do that, we do many other things that are surprisingly poorly understood."  That happens with reading and writing words, too.
Image by ROBERT KOSARA https://eagereyes.org/basics/encoding-vs-decoding CC-BY-SA

After all this, have you thought a little about where, what and how you consciously and unconsciously use code?
"Communication" Image in the public domain