Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Problem with the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

I know I shouldn’t, but I’m giggling over the plight of the poor Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. The poor endangered creature is nearing extinction, and here I am laughing at it. Okay, I’ll let you in on the secret. We’re supposed to laugh at this animal. There's no such thing as a Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

This fictional octopus is the object of a satirical website. The problem with the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus isn’t that such hoax sites exist. It’s that students can be fooled by them if they don’t know how to evaluate sources. “The New Literacies” in this month’s District Administration explains that “25 seventh-grade, high-performing online readers, when directed to the [Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus] site in a recent study by the New Literacies Research Team at the University of Connecticut, all thought the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus was real.”

The idea of evaluating resources isn’t new. Before online resources seemed to become omnipresent, students made plenty of mistakes choosing materials for their inquiry projects. A student might use a fictional rendering of an historic event instead of a nonfiction account. Students might choose popular magazines for research papers rather than more authoritative journals and books. As a result, in the past, teachers talked about evaluating resources with students as part of their inquiry projects.

What's different in the Internet age is that anyone can publish a relatively polished and believable site. It’s very easy to be taken in by sites that look like they refer to authoritative sources and present objective information. The democratization of online publishing means that Internet-savvy readers have to be even more careful as they evaluate the resources that they encounter.

What can teachers do to help ensure students aren’t tricked by the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Read the ALA’s School Library Media Research journal article “Evaluating Information: An Information Literacy Challenge” for a librarian’s perspective on evaluating online resources, and tap your school librarian for help in emphasizing the importance of evaluating sources. Go over the typical features of reliable Internet sources and talk about how hoax sites work—just as you discuss the importance of evaluating any other resource that students use in their research. Here are some materials to get the discussion started:

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see the logical link pointed out between print and online sources. The confusion can be the same. However, it's one thing to be fooled by a hoax site -- and believing that a tree octopus exists harms no one, really -- but what about the sites that twist information subtly (or not so subtly)? For instance, given an assignment to research Martin Luther King, a student could reasonably come up with www.martinlutherking.org or www.thekingcenter.org -- only one of those sites is friendly to MLK. Guess which one. The other is a harmful hate site with specific activities for youth to share the message with their schools. These sites, to me, are the real necessity for critical thinking.

Anonymous said...

this is such a hoax. who ever came up with this stupid idea? they should try o think of a better one!
So many people don't belive but so many do. HOAX the end

Anonymous said...

the photos r so feak
u can tell it was cut out n paste

octopus said...

you guys are such an insperation to me i have never found another tree octopus saver!!!! ive been trying to save them my whole life thank you guys for the help i needed!!!!

Save Tree Octopus's

Anonymous said...

Tree octopuses are SO not real! Thank you for highlighting this!
-A school librarian

Anonymous said...

those of you who laugh at believers, I suggest you stop. I know a person who has seen it with his own eyes. it's not only him, but a whole group of students and him have seen it at science camp.i got in touch with him in person. go ahead. laugh, but I believe in this octopus. people need to be more considerate of the environment. we destroy forests like no other species and we also endanger other species just for our own good. I've seen some photos that are just really bad, but I've seen video evidence that include this elusive species. it's sad how many people think this creature is a hoax.

Anonymous said...

all haters die

Samuel Crow said...

It is not stupid. Thede global warming turkeys and there are a huge fatm out in Calif, get angry the loudest. Sure the Tree Octopus may not be real and sure it may cloud out true near extinction animals such as the Mtn. Walrus or the swamp hippopotamus but come on don't get stressed over it.

Samuel Crow said...

It is not stupid. Thede global warming turkeys and there are a huge fatm out in Calif, get angry the loudest. Sure the Tree Octopus may not be real and sure it may cloud out true near extinction animals such as the Mtn. Walrus or the swamp hippopotamus but come on don't get stressed over it.