ITGS, Theory of Knowledge, and Wikipedia!

Critics of Wikipedia often cite the online encyclopedia's perceived lack of reliability, focusing on its open nature that allows anybody with Internet access to contribute to its articles. Key concerns are that incorrect or simply fictitious edits might be made, and might remain undetected for months or even years (there are several semi-famous cases that highlight this fact).

A related issue arose in a recent TOK class during a discussion about bias in historical sources. One student quoted the old adage "history is written by the victor" and this somehow - in true TOK style, I'm still not sure how - led to us questioning the demographics of Wikipedia's contributors. While "anybody" can edit Wikipedia, just what does a 'typical' contributor or editor look like? Even if the contributions they make are 'correct' (always a risky word to use in TOK!), could there be some form of systematic bias or leaning within the articles? 

As we know from ITGS, "unreliable data" is not necessary a synonym for "incorrect data". Data may be unreliable if it is:
  • Out of date
  • Incomplete
  • Deliberately altered
  • Accidentally altered
In the context of Wikipedia, we could add 'Written from a particular perspective' to this list. But what if the skewed perspective was unconscious rather than deliberate? As it turns out, Wikipedia itself has several pages dedicated to its demographics and possible systematic bias. After some brief research we were able to find a variety of statistics that raise both ITGS social and ethical issues and helped us generate some interesting TOK Knowledge Questions.

It is worth noting that there are two common roles played by Wikipedia's users: Contributors - an open position that allows anybody to edit pages on the encyclopedia, and editors - users who are appointed to resolve issues such as despites and page vandalism. According to Wikipedia itself (which notes that this information is based on a 2010 survey):
contributors can be split into four approximately equal age-groups: those under 18, those between 18 and 22, those from 22 to 30 and the remainder between 30 and 85
In other words, approximately 75% of Wikipedia contributors are under 30. Other interesting statistics, again from Wikipedia, include:
  • 45% of contributors have secondary level education or less
  • 13-15% of contributors are women
  • The majority of contributors speak English as a first-language
  • Most contributors are from the Northern, Western hemisphere
Of course, there are other related issues too - such as the digital divide that we cover in ITGS. Clearly not everybody in the world has the access to computers, the Internet, or even electricity needed to contribute to Wikipedia. Among those that do, it still takes a person of a certain social class to have leisure time available to contribute to Wikipedia instead of doing other tasks such as earning money. Ironically another limitation mentioned by Wikipedia is the lack of sources available to poorer users. Since Wikipedia resources contributions to have verifiable sources, users without access to these potentially expensive items can find themselves unable to contribute to the world's largest free encyclopedia.

Source

There are so many potential impacts of these demographics that an entire TOK or ITGS lesson could be spent discussing them. Wikipedia cites an example of two articles to illustrate Western-bias: the first about Second Congo War - a five year war that resulted in up to 5 million deaths - is around 5000 words and has 38 sources. The second, the entry for the Falklands War - a much shorter war with a comparatively lower death toll - is around 11,000 words and has 146 cited sources. In another case a survey found that of the 25 most commonly mentioned people in the English version of Wikipedia, only 2 were women - and in the top 20, none were women.

Our the class came to a close we tried to generate some TOK-style knowledge questions relating to the issues we had discussed, and came up with the following:
  • How can we identify systematic bias?
  • Can we ever truly overcome systematic bias in sources?
  • If one source is true, does that automatically mean another source is 'wrong'?
  • If 'average' is used in the mathematical sense, how representative would an 'average' contributor be? Is an 'average' of knowledge desirable?
  • Is there some information which cannot be simply classified as 'correct' or 'incorrect'?
  • Is there a place for such information in an encyclopedia that aims to be "to be the sum of human knowledge" (which leads us back to a classic open-ended TOK question: "What is knowledge?"
My website has more resources for integrating TOK and ITGS.

New ITGS website design, features, and resources

New ITGS website design
The last few weeks have been spent making some quite big changes to my ITGS textbook website. Many of the changes are behind the scenes, moving from an old static site to a new dynamic configuration which enables several new features. The new design should also be much more responsive and user-friendly on mobile devices.

The ITGS syllabus is not sequential or linear, and any ITGS news article or resource is likely to link to multiple areas of the syllabus (this is the whole point of the ITGS triangle). The problem with the old website was that resources had to be categorized on a single page or, worse, be copied and pasted to several different pages, which is a bad idea for several reasons.

The new design makes it much easier to search for resources using the new menu system that lets you find items relating to any part of the ITGS syllabus. You can also use the new search page to find resources matching only specific categories. Need something relating to robotics, but specifically when used in health? No problem. Check those two boxes. Need to find resources related to the use of Internet in the Business and Employment strand? Easy. Want to see resources related to the security social / ethical issue in the Politics and Government strand? Just tick the boxes.

Another benefit of this system is that it automatically keeps track of the date each article was last changed. This makes it much easier to see additions and updates when browsing the site, and the new 'latest updates' section of the home page now lists the most recent resources added. Of course, you can still use the RSS feed to keep track of changes too.

Finally, the social media links on the right now include a link to the YouTube ITGS playlists I have been working on to collect ITGS related videos together. Why not head over there and try the changes for yourself?

Military Use of IT - Battlefield Technology

This week in class we will be studying the Politics and Government topic in strand 2 of the ITGS triangle, with a focus on military use of IT. For this lesson we will investigate the latest developments in battlefield technology, which is changing rapidly. We have already studied the use of drones by the military and will now look at systems used by infantry soldiers in combat. 

The links below provide a starting point for your work but you should also investigate further afield yourself - these technologies are changing rapidly!

Wired Soldiers / Future Warriors
Several countries are developing new equipment for their infantry soldiers to improve their awareness of the battlefield. The US Army has been developing its Land Warrior equipment for some time now as part of its larger Future Force Warrior system. Battlefield visualization is also often a key part of these systems. Other equipment available includes grenade cameras to help soldiers survey areas in relative safety.



Smart Weapons
Smart weapons incorporate information technology to increase the effectiveness of weapons and minimize the risk to friendly soldiers. Such systems include weapons that track targets, improve firing accuracy, even when fired by journalists(!).





Exoskeletons
Military Exoskeletons may sound like science fiction, but they are being actively developed by several countries. HULC exoskeleton system ready for soldier tests and US Army plans 'Iron Man' armour for soldiers (BBC) both deal with the development of these new 'robotic' suits which are designed to improve soldiers' strength and stamina, enabling them to carry heavier loads over longer distances.


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ITGS Banned Words game - Computer Software

Banned Words is a game for ITGS students and teachers that makes for a useful starter or plenary activity. In a previous post I uploaded slides for the ITGS terms related to computer hardware; this slideshow contains all the terms relating to computer software.

For the uninitiated the rules are straightforwad: students must guess which term one of their teammates is trying to explain; the student doing the explaining is not permitted to use any of the banned words on the slide. The concept is similar to Taboo(TM) or Forbidden Words(TM). 

You can download the presentation from Slideshare. It has an embedded macro randomly select a term each click until all terms are covered.



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Book Review: Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen tells the story of Iceman (real name Max Butler), a computer geek turned hacker turned notorious cyber criminal who was eventually imprisoned in 2007. Kingpin charts Butler's rise (or fall?) into organised crime, from his first offences including software piracy and phone hacking, to system administration of one of the largest cyber-criminal discussion forums on the Internet. More modern than The Cuckoo's Egg or even Ghost in the Wire, Kingpin gives a fantastic insight into the world of cybercrime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period of time when criminals were starting to make serious money from online fraud - particularly from stealing credit card numbers and associated details - so called carding, and law enforcement agencies were struggling to control this rapidly growing new threat.


A large part of Kingpin discusses the underground discussion forums where cyber-criminals share tools, tactics, and information, including the now infamous Shadowcrew forum. One of the themes of Kingpin is law enforcement's frequent inability to keep up with technology and the new types of crimes it enables - this is especially true in the early days when Max commits his first crimes. The material here is really the stuff of thrillers as a cat-and-moues game develops between the carders, the FBI whose undercover agents try to infiltrate the groups and their servers, and even between the hackers themselves as they compete for notoriety in an atmosphere of distrust. It is at this point that Butler pulls off his most notorious hack - the infiltration and subsequent hostile takeover of rival carders' forums - including DarkMarket - to create his own central criminal marketplace, CardersMarket.

One of the great takeaways from Kingpin is the answer to the question curious Computer Science and ITGS students often ask: 'How do you hack?'. Poulsen explains in candid detail how Butler and his associates circumvented security in their target systems, including exploiting known vulnerabilities in software (flaws in BIND and VNC are discussed), hijacking WiFi connections, and taking advantage of systems that still use default passwords. In one of his bigger hacks, Butler takes advantage of a security lapse at a restaurant that stores unencrypted credit card details in text files on their systems. These examples do a great job of highlighting how security breaches are often caused by simple human error and can be relatively easily exploited - a great lesson for students on the importance of general good security practices such as choosing secure passwords and keeping systems patched and updated.

One aspect of Kingpin that disappointed was the lack of focus on the social impacts of carding, and Butler's crimes in particular. Although loss figures scatter the book (when Butler was arrested the affected banks calculated the total losses at over $86 million), these are almost used as yardsticks to measure the success of each hack - little space is dedicated to the effects on the banks or their customers, almost giving the impression that such fraud is a victimless crime. In a similar vein, throughout the book Poulsen tends to paint a picture of Butler as a misunderstood geek, almost a Robin Hood character driven by a pathological need to hack computer systems. Poulsen does use his own knowledge (he is also a former hacker) to provide a fantastic insight into the hacker mindset, but I would have liked to have seen a little more balance.

Overall though, Kingpin is a thoroughly entertaining book - I read it in just two sittings - that I feel many ITGS students would enjoy. At 239 pages it is short enough to maintain students' interest and is modern enough to provide a wealth of material to which they can relate. Although its coverage of the social impacts of hacking is limited, its clear explanations of hacking attacks and the apparent ease with which they were performed make reading it an eye-opening experience. There is a lot of potential here for discussion material in the ITGS classroom, including security practises, organisational responsibility to secure personal data (and report breaches if they occur), the difficulty of enforcing law online, and the fine line between white hat and black hat hacking. This could keep ITGS students busy for some time!

I bought my copy of Kingpin from Book Depository with free worldwide shipping.

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Free Microsoft E-Books

Microsoft has made a collection of hundreds of e-books available for free from its website. The collection features titles covering many major Microsoft products including Office, Windows 8, SQL Server, ASP.NET, and many more, with downloads available in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats. While many of the topics are quite complex (Data Mining Extensions (DMX) Reference for SQL Server, anyone?), a lot are ideal for ITGS teachers and students, particularly if they are developing their internal assessment project using Microsoft software.

There are books relating to all Office products, including Quick Start Guides for Excel and Access (I sometimes find students struggle with these) and Getting To Know Office 365 for students who may be using Microsoft's cloud services. Own Your Space - Keep Yourself and Your Stuff Safe Online and BYOD Devices - A Deployment Guide for Education both relate to topics and issues in the ITGS syllabus and could be used as instruction aids or discussion material.

Other titles may be of interest to non-ITGS teachers too, including Developing Critical Thinking Through Web Research Skills and Digital Storytelling.

The collection can be downloaded from Microsoft's blog. It really is huge, so if you find an example that is particularly useful for ITGS, please do add a comment below.

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Where to find ITGS news articles

News articles are one of the foundations of ITGS: a great source of discussion material, a way of keeping up to date with the latest developments, and now a key part of the paper 2 exam. In theory, finding ITGS news articles should be easy - we now have access to so many different newspapers, websites, and social media feeds. However, finding articles that clearly present social and ethical issues, relate specifically to information technology, and are written in a clear and engaging way suitable for international students is not always easy. Here is a list of my favourite sites that meet these criteria.

Do you have a suggestion for another ITGS news site? Please do add a comment at the bottom of this post.


The Atlantic
The Atlantic is one of my favourite sites for ITGS news articles. Its articles are longer than many other sites on this list, but also more detailed and often explain how IT systems work in a way that is perfect for strand 3 of the ITGS triangle.




BBC
The BBC seems to be the go-to example in lists like this. Its articles are always well researched and clearly written, and short enough for reading in ITGS class. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a lot of its articles focus on new product releases or similar events which do not tend to generate the social and ethical issues necessary for ITGS analysis.


New Scientist
New Scientist contains a wide range of articles on the latest IT developments, from computer crime to humanoids. Their topic guides include 60 Seconds - a short round up of stories from the past week. Some articles require a subsription to view in full, but many are free.



Communications of the ACM
The ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) covers a wide range of topics that relate directly to ITGS. Although quite long, the articles are clearly written and give enough technical detail to help students understand how the IT systems involved work - great for understanding strand 3, criterion B on paper 2, and ITGS in general.


Science Daily
www.sciencedaily.com/news/computers_math/
Through its (admittedly somewhat crowded) front page, Science Daily provides access to a wide range of information technology related topics, including hacking, encryption, the Internet, and computer modeling. The articles tends to be at a higher reading level than some of the other sites on this list, but should still be accessible to ITGS students.


MIT Technology Review
The Computing section of Technology Review contains the news articles most likely to be relevant to ITGS students and teachers, but it is also worth periodically checking others sections such as biomedicine too. Because the site focuses on upcoming technology and innovative research (often covering stories long before they appear on other sites), it is great for ethical discussions about the direction of technological development.


EdTech Magazine
EdTech features a great range of articles on the development and use of information technology in education. Their particular focus on social impacts makes them very useful for ITGS. In particular, the K-12 section of the site is useful for classroom discussion material.


PBS Frontline
PBS covers many contemporary news stories, some of which link up with the ITGS syllabus. Recent examples include United States of Secrets, covering US Internet spying, and Generation Like, an investigation into teenagers and social media. The great thing about the PBS stories is their depth: each includes a series of videos and related articles that put the story into context - great for addressing the different strands of the ITGS triangle.


IEEE Spectrum
This is another site I love for articles about leading edge technology articles. IEEE Spectrum has a reputation as a top-quality peer-reviewed publication, yet its articles are generally written in a style that is accessible to most readers. The Robotics and Computing sections are frequently updated and contain a great range of material to stimulate ethical debates in ITGS class.


Wired
www.wired.com/security
Wired covers a lot of product releases and similar stories (which are generally not useful for ITGS), but the articles in their security section have a much greater focus on social impacts, making them very useful.




Newsweek
www.newsweek.com/tech-science
Newsweek features the some useful articles in its technology and science section. Although the articles do not appear as frequently as other sites, the depth of the investigations means they often cover several strands of the ITGS triangle.




News.com Australia
www.news.com.au/technology
News Corp's Australia portal features breaking IT news and sometimes has stories not covered by other sites. The articles are long enough to provide sufficient detail, but short enough to be useful for ITGS paper 2 exams with minimal alteration.




The Australian
www.theaustralian.com.au/technology
Another Australian site, which provides an interesting alternative perspective to the predominately US-focused sites. It can be very interesting to look at how major issues (such as government surveillance) are handled compared to the US. The Australian also features regular exclusive stories which investigate issues is more depth.


Of course, there are many other sources for ITGS news articles too. Most major newspapers have technology sections, including the New York Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the UK's Guardian, and Telegraph newspapers, and often articles that raise social and ethical issues can be found there.

If you have a suggestion for another ITGS news site, please do add a comment below.


ITGS Project: Criterion E: Product Development

Now you have your ITGS project's design and test plan complete, it is time to start producing your product, always using the specifications and designs that you created in criteria B and D. The development process needs carefully documenting in several ways:
  • You need to take screenshots of the key steps. These will be need to write up the documentation for criteria E. I recommend making dozens of screenshots during product development: if you don't need them later, you can delete them - but if you need a screenshot and you didn't take one, you cannot 'undo' the progress you have made since then.
  • Criteria C needs updating to reflect the progress you are making, as always.
  • I need to see you developing your project. Although the project can (and will) be homework, we need to have class time developing your product too. This gives you a chance to get guidance if you need it, to use the classroom resources, and it also helps me ensure you are developing the project yourself (sorry, but it is true).

Criterion E is not all about creating the product: you must also explain (with screenshots) the key steps you took during the creation, whilst referring to your three complex techniques that you selected earlier in the project. Your criterion E document should only contain details of these complex techniques - not the basic ones. Finally, you also need to justify your choice and use of techniques - often this can be done by referring to the client's needs or to accepted good practice in your product area (e.g. it is generally accepted good practice to use a consistent layout for most web pages or DTP products to aid user navigation).




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