A Healthy Info Diet, Data Deluge, & Filter Bubbles. Oh my!

I read it on the Internet to it must be true.

You may have heard this phrase said jokingly at one time or another but the reality is that we ARE constantly being bombarded with massive amounts of information and data on a daily basis –"data deluge" as Nicholas Carr (2010) describes it. As humans, we crave information. Search engines like Google and Yahoo and social networks like Twitter and Facebook feed into our information addiction. Social Network Tree by Gerd Altmann - https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/How do we decipher fact from fiction in this digital environment that we’ve created or that was created for us? Can we filter the information we receive so that we have a balanced information diet of “information vegetables and information dessert”(Eli Pariser, 2011)? Or can’t we? Just like it’s important to have a balanced diet in our daily lives for good health, it’s important to have a balanced diet in our digital lives and not one that is solely based on “information junk food” (Pariser, 2011) and biased thinking. Lastly, we have to filter out distraction. In order to get the most out of the information technologies out there (e.g., Twitter, Text messages, email, Google), we have to develop the skill to be able to turn those technologies off (Carr, 2010) so we’re not living in a constant state of distraction.

The Information Gatekeepers

Back in the day (which really isn’t that long ago), the Internet was seen as more of a connection to the world and to each other but “there is now a shift to how information is flowing online, and it’s silent and if we don’t pay attention it will cause real problems” (Pariser, 2011). Pariser is referring to the “algorithmic gatekeepers” that filter the information that we see when look at our Facebook page or do a search on Google. Algorithms are built into the web that track what links we click on the most, what products we search for, or who we are following on Twitter and then tailor our digital experience for us accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our experience is balanced – we don’t get to filter everything that makes up our digital experience the algorithms are doing all of that for us whether we are aware of it or not.

This week I took a close look at my info diet and in all honesty, I found my info diet heavily filled with information and data that shared the same viewpoints and opinions as my own. Sure I have some information vegetables, some information dessert, and even some information junk food sprinkled in but it’s all information that would fall into my comfort zone, what I found missing were opinions and information that challenged my thinking. My “filter bubble”, described by Pariser (2010) as “your own personal unique universe of information that you live in online”, was very biased.

In reaction to this, I have added numerous RSS feeds to my blog and have created, and added to, a Twitter list that includes information outside of my present filter bubble to create a more diverse and more balanced info diet.

The Wickedness of it All

Working and teaching in the field of web development, I’m aware of the number of algorithms on the web tracking our “clicks” and what we’re searching for in order to craft a more personal digital experience. Listening to Pariser’s TED Talk “Beware online “filter bubbles”, was enlightening. I never thought of the space that I occupied online as a bubble and the information contained in that bubble was being filtered in and out by algorithms. I simply viewed my personalized digital experience as the outcome of typical online marketing tactics. Pariser (2010) makes the plea to coders on the web that these algorithms filtering all of our information “need to have coded in them a sense of civic responsibility”. He goes on to argue that algorithms don’t have ethics embedded within them and we need to have some control over our filters. Just as I can choose to follow someone on Twitter or not, I should be able to chose the criteria for what’s being filtered in and out of my filter bubble.

The whole idea of turning technologies off and filtering out distraction is truly a wicked problem. Nicholas Carr (2011) explains that finding a new piece of information produces dopamine in our brain. The production of dopamine encourages us to keep doing that activity because it makes us feel good. That’s why doing a simple product search can send you off on tangents and bombard you with information all the while hours have gone by. I understand the “data deluge” that Carr is talking about; I’ve been there. Carr also mentions that multitasking doesn’t exist. What we are doing is essentially switching our focus quickly from one thing to another and in doing so we lose our ability to distinguish important information from trivia – we become distracted. We have to learn how to filter out distraction and to turn the technologies of our distraction off. I think part of the solution boils down to self-discipline and it’s not a simple task in a “connected world”.

After watching Henry Jenkins’ video on Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement, I reflected on what I observe within the my classrooms and I don’t see a world where everyone is participating and students are engaged outside of the classroom leveraging the power of networks and getting together to learn from each other, at least not most of the time. There are clubs at the college where liked minded students engage and learn from each other, but not to the extent that Jenkins speaks of based on my personal experience. What would it take to create a more participatory culture? More guidance and information filtering so people aren’t left to learn on their own? What we don’t want is to create “feral children of the Internet” (Jenkins, 2011).

A Healthy Digital Environment

In creating a more healthy and balanced info diet to better tackle the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking, I’ve added numerous RSS feeds that focus on different areas in education, varied affiliates, critical thinking, and diversified opinions. RSS feeds on diverse subjects in education.I also created a new list on Twitter based on education that includes people and/or organizations that provide new ideas, new insights, and that challenge my current way of thinking about teaching complex thinking as well as support it. Frequently reviewing the RSS feeds on my blog and reviewing new information on my Twitter list provides a constant stream of diverse data that has created a more balanced info diet. Every article, tweet, or feed may not entirely relate to teaching complex thinking, but it may offer insight or “leads” about different areas to explore. Regardless of the type of data stream, it’s important to be critical of every piece of information you read, see, and hear online.

I used Hootsuite as a way to manage the Twitter list (Education Related) that I created as part of my new, healthy info diet.

Hootsuite used to manage a personalized Twitter list.

Hootsuite used to manage a personalized Twitter list.

I also used TweetBeam as a way to personalize a tweet show using the hashtag #education and was presented with a variety of data and information related to education. You can see in action here.


Eli Pariser (2011) sums it up nicely, “We really need the Internet to be that thing. We need it to connect us, introduce us to new ideas, new people, and different perspectives.” 


Altmann, G. (2013, October). [Social Network Tree] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

Carr, N. (2011, June). Information: Making sense of the deluge. [Video File]. Retrieved from http://bcove.me/7j4zpzwz

Jenkins, H. (2011, August). Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ZgZ4ph3dSmY

Pariser, E. (2011, May). Beware online “filter bubbles”. [Video file].  Retrieved from https://youtu.be/B8ofWFx525s


This problem is a Wicked one!

During our Think Tank virtual meeting, we looked for commonalities among all of the brainstorming questions posted by each group member to arrive at our three defining questions that we will use as a focal point for the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking. The three defining questions are as follows:

  1. Why is it referred to as computational, critical, and complex thinking?
  2. Why does creativity play a role in complex thinking?
  3. Why is the classroom environment important for teaching complex thinking?

Question Mark by Gerd Altmann - https://pixabay.com/en/question-mark-punctuation-marks-358178/

Why is it referred to as computational, critical, and complex thinking? had us all in agreement after noticing that simply doing a Google search or a MSU library search for “complex thinking” brought up results that used complex thinking, critical thinking, and computational thinking terms interchangeably. Do all of these terms mean the same thing or does each term have a different meaning? We thought this to be an appropriate question to try and answer since it’s the basis or our wicked problem.

Why does creativity play a role in complex thinking? Each of us viewed creativity as part of the complex teaching (and learning) process even thought we interpreted it slightly differently but in the end arrived at the same conclusion that it does in fact play a role in complex thinking. We thought it would be important to find out why.

Why is the classroom environment important for teaching complex thinking? We were in agreement on it being necessary to use a combination of both traditional and nontraditional teaching methods to teach complex thinking. With further research, we hope to determine which teaching methods are most effective and the role a classroom environment plays in teaching complex thinking.

I created a Teaching Complex Thinking Infographic using Canva that summarizes the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking and a wicked problem it is!


Altmann, G. (2014, May). [Question Mark] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/question-mark-punctuation-marks-358178/

The Wicked Problem of Teaching Complex Thinking

Over the next few weeks, my group will be examining various solutions and attempt to answer questions related to the wicked problem of “teaching complex thinking”. How do educators effectively teach complex thinking and reasoning in order to prepare students to solve complex problems creatively and then in turn be able to effectively organize their ideas and successfully communicate them to others?

This problem is extremely challenging because it has many facets. Communication and creative problem solving are integral components of complex thinking and how educators successfully teach each of those components within the classroom may require taking a step back from traditional teaching methods and examining new ones. In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger (2014) explains that “Upon stepping back and reexamining something you’ve been looking at the same for years, you might suddenly feel as if you’re seeing it for the first time” (p. 84).

What are the most effective methods and techniques used to teach complex thinking and what types of classroom activities are essential for teaching students to “think outside of the box” and engage in creative problem solving?
Think outside the box - https://pixabay.com/en/quote-chalk-chalkboard-words-think-791953/ Independent of the subject matter, “Students should be encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions, and not believe and accept everything they are told” (Walker, 2003, p. 266). As educators, we have to discover the most effective ways to promote questioning in learners.

What is the most effective way to teach the valuable communication skills needed to bring a learner’s complex and creativity thinking to fruition? You can have the greatest ideas in the world but if they cannot be communicated effectively, those ideas remain in isolation “communication skills must also be mastered for complex thinking to be applied meaningfully” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 32).

I believe that a single strategy, technique, and method is not the solution to teaching effective communication and creative problem solving which are essential components of complex thinking – a variety of strategies, techniques, and methods are needed, “…thought develops with practice and evaluation over time using multiple strategies” (Walker, 2003, pg. 266).

As educators we need to explore new teaching methods or modify traditional methods that will allow complex thinking and all its components to flourish in our classroom. This requires educators to seek that “vuja de” moment that Berger describes happens “when you look at something familiar and suddenly see it fresh” (Berger, 2014, p. 84).

Please take a moment to share your thoughts and complete my survey related to teaching complex thinking.


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathrough Ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

Grabowska, K. (2015, May). [Think of the Box] [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/quote-chalk-chalkboard-words-think-791953/

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Walker, S. E. (2003). Active Learning Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking.Journal of Athletic Training, 38(3), 263–267.

Enhancing video with audio descriptions for learners that are visually impaired

Technology Keyboard Computing by Daniel Agrelo: https://pixabay.com/en/technology-keyboard-computing-785742/

“A picture is worth a thousands words.”

The chances are very good that you have heard this English idiom at one time or another. Conveying a message, idea, or concept through the use of a visual element (e.g., video) rather than words may prove very advantageous when it comes to presenting something that may be more complex in nature or better understood by using a visual reference. But what if you are a person with a visual disability? What if that visual element and the message it conveys plays a vital role in understanding the task at hand?

“…if people who are blind are using materials that are designed to enhance and maximize learning using text and images, they may be more at a disadvantage if they are accessing only textual content.” (Evans and Graeme, 2008)

There have been numerous studies that have “shown that the multimedia presentation of learning content can lead to an enhanced learning experience and better performance” (Mayer, 2003; Mayer and Moreno, 2003; Moreno and Mayer, 1999; Najjar, 1998). Being able to provide a video component that is accessible and useful for a learner with a visual disability is the ill-structured problem that poses an issue not only within the online learning environment but the traditional classroom as well.

So the question is, how can technology and the various digital tools available be used to assist learners that are visually impaired so that he/she can successfully interact with multimedia content and participate in an enhanced learning experience in the same capacity as a learner that is fully sighted?

The Web-Based Tool

A college level course in basic Web Programming that is taught fully in an online environment can be difficult for any learner that is new to the field. Visual, as well as written references, are not only used for explanation but also to provide reference points to enhance better understanding of a specific topic.

The use of various types of assistive technologies such as screen readers and magnifiers are commonplace for learners with a visual disability. In addition, I found a free web-based accessibility tool called YouDescribe, that allows for providing audio descriptions within a YouTube video. Audio descriptions are used to provide additional narration, which is beneficial to individuals with a visual impairment. YouDescribe was developed by The Smith-Kettlewill Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) which focuses on “developing 21st century tools for a new age of video accessibility”.

A YouDescribe Video discussing Basic web page components found on the Macomb Community College website.

All of the video components that are used within my online courses are uploaded to YouTube and made available to my students, which makes YouDescribe a very useful tool for adding audio descriptions to my existing video content. YouDescribe doesn’t modify or redistribute the original YouTube video, everything is kept in tact allowing two separate versions of the video that the learner can access depending on their individual needs and/or preferences.

YouDescribe provides easy step-by-step instructions on Recording within their website along with a Google-based support forum and FAQs for both “Viewers” and “Describers”. There aren’t any special software requirements for the “describer” or the “viewer” other than access to a web browser. YouDescribe accesses the microphone on your computer, which is used to record the audio descriptions that accompany the YouTube video.

The following are enhancements that I would like to see become available within YouDescribe that would provide additional options both for the “describer” and “viewer”:

  • The ability to set the listing option for the video (public, unlisted, or private) similar to what you can do within YouTube
  • The ability to create an audio description for a single image (currently you can only add audio descriptions to videos)

How YouDescribe Enables a Learner

YouDescribe assists learners with a visual disability by providing additional instruction and narrative to a video component. This additional information can be used to enhance other assistive technologies already in use. Using a tool such as YouDescribe levels the playing field for learners that are visually impaired and sighted. Both learner groups have access to the same information and in some cases; the learner who has a visual disability is supplied with additional information simply because of the nature of the tool.

“In a practical sense, instructors and designers of learning resources must continue to think carefully about the technical accessibility of their materials and constantly seek ways of refining and updating them to optimize the learning experience of users who are blind.” (Evans and Graeme, 2008)

See YouDescribe in action and how it can be useful in helping to support learners that are visually impaired.

The completed YouDescribe video referenced within the YouTube video above is located here.


Agrelo, D. (2015, May). [Technology, Keyboard, Computing, Peripheral] [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/technology-keyboard-computing-785742/

Audio Description. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 2, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_description

Evans, S., & Douglas, G. (2008). E-learning and blindness: A comparative study of the quality of an E-learning experience. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 102(2), 77-88. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/docview/222044681?accountid=12598

Mayer, R. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: Using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13, 125-139.

Mayer, R. G., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning,  Educational Psychologist, 38, 43-52.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. G. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 358-368.

Najjar, L. J. (1998). Principles of educational multimedia user interface design. Human Factors, 40, 311-323.