Discover Dynamic Digital Worlds



middle school studentAre you prepared to lead your program into unknown territory? Like the explorers of the past, librarians and educators are leading expeditions into exciting new worlds of information, inquiry, and innovation. From the bias of blogs to the boundaries of bandwidth, today’s knowledge adventurers face unique obstacles. This session provides strategies for planning and guiding a successful journey into dynamic digital worlds.


There's a lot we can learn from exploration of the past. I've been reading quite a few books lately that emphasize the importance of looking outside our "comfort zone" as we look at the world around us. Whether we're exploring the physical world or the virtual world, it's essential to learn from the lessons of the past and seek new ways of thinking about the future. Here are a few things I've been reading:

  • 1421 by Gavin Menzies
  • 1491 by Charles Mann
  • Collapse by Jared Diamond
  • Explorer’s House by Robert M. Poole
  • The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

World explorers rely on a wide range of tools and resources, using what's best for the particular situation. Information explorers do the same thing. They reply on all tools from books to computer, using what's best for the particular situation.

Unique Challenges

Today's information explorer faces the daunting task of selecting relevant, meaningful topics to investigate, identifying timely resources, maneuvering through data sources, evaluating the accuracy of sources, synthesizing information, and drawing conclusions with constantly changing information.


The Canine Influenza Epidemic:
Fact or Fiction?

Like most teens, Jamal communicates with family members through email. When he receives an email "forward" from him grandmother in Florida, he generally puts it in the trash. She sends lots of "forwarded messages" including chain emails, prayers, political jokes, and urban legends. While she thinks of these messages as fact, Jamal is much more skeptical. He's also mature enough not to argue with grandma.

However one email forward catches his eye. The headline is "The New Canine Influenza". The message states that a virus deadly to dogs was first found in greyhound race dogs and has been spreading in the canine population of the U.S. He wonders if this could be true. His grandmother is clearly concerned about Bailey, the family dog.

The Great InfluenzaHaving recently read The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the 1918 Pandemic by John M. Barry for a science class, Jamal considers whether this could be connected to other recent viruses such as the "bird flu."

Like most teens, Jamal spends lots of time on the Internet. His first stop is Snopes to look up dog flu. He quickly locates a copy of the ominous email and is shocked to find that Snopes indicates the email is True. After reading the background information found by Snopes, he decides to conduct his own investigation to confirm the information in the email.

The message refers to an article at, so he checks the reference. Wondering about the credibility of this website, he examines the Founder page and learns that the website is authored by a person with authority. To check his credentials, Jamal googles "Henry L Niman". He finds that Niman is being interviewed by many news and health organizations worldwide on this topic.

The article also mentions AVMA. Googling AVMA brings up the American Veterinary Medical Association. This website contains the JAVMA (Journal of Veterinary Medical Association) News which links to an article titled "Canine influenza virus emerges in Florida." It states that "Known as canine influenza or canine flu, the disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that was recently identified by researchers at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine." Jamal decides to read the press report from the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner titled Bronson Alerts Public to Newly Emerging Canine Flu. The article indicates that the actual report is in the journal Science (30 September 2005).

Unfortunately he doesn't have access to the journal Science, so he logs into his school library to search for the article. He finds that the current issue isn't available online, but it is available in the physical library.

Jamal goes to the journal Science online and wonders about their credibility. The copyright notice indicates that the magazine is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS website confirms that they are actually associated with this magazine. He has confidence in this article.

The email also mentions the APHIS. He googles APHIS and learns that it's the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA. The website isn't well organized, so he leaves.

Finally, he checks the references provided at the Snopes website from the New York Times and Boston Herald.

Satisfied that people are concerned about this topic, Jamal decides to see what government officials are doing to address this concern. Having gone to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) as part of his 1918 Pandemic report, he starts there.

dogHe reads a transcript from a news briefing held September 26, 2005. Now we're getting somewhere. The conference includes the author of the article, Dr. Crawford from the University of Florida along with people from the CDC and Cornell. The discussion conveys the idea that the flu is a concern, but that the illness has a low mortality rate. The lead researcher even indicates that she would continue to show her dogs at Kennel Club events and is confident that they'll be fine. This makes Jamal feel much better.

Jamal emails his grandmother to assure her that Bailey will be fine.


diagram of Jamal's experience

Become a Metacognitive Explorer

To be effective in a digital world, we must all become metacognitive explorers! The visual below represents Jamal's information inquiry process. Can you match the key points with his experience above? Can you match the key points with your own inquiry process? What are your comfort sources?

metacognitive explorer

Planning Successful Information Voyages

The digital universe is rapidly expanding. Are we preparing students to navigate this diverse information environment? Do they carefully select a destination or head to the easiest source?

Just as a traditional library contains a variety of sources, so does the virtual world. We can no longer just teach kids about "websites." They need to understand that websites serve a variety of functions and need to be evaluated based on their purpose.

The digital universe is filled with a variety of worlds with different resources for different purposes. Access to information that in the past was restricted to a few people. Today, people have access to a full range of information and services online.

Although there are millions of websites, they can be classified into three areas: navigation, information, and interaction. While many websites contain all three of these elements, others have one of these three areas as their primary mission. Students need to know how to approach resources effectively.


Portals. A portal is more than a bunch of pre-selected information and links. They can be customized and personalized to allow users to develop personal bookmarks, calendars, news links, and other features. It's a community of explorers and learners that place emphasis on sharing, communication, and collaboration. FirstGov is the US Federal government's portal. Many states (i.e., California), organizations, and schools have portals. In addition, some interest areas have portals such as WebQuests.

Search Tools. Search directories and search engines . Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and Alta Vista and meta-search tools like Dogpile, Vivisimo, Kartoo, and Mamma don't include original content. Instead, they focus on locating information. Some tools focus on specific topics such as Google News and Yahoo News. Search tools for kids include KidsClick, Ask Jeeves for Kids, and Yahooligans. Many libraries contain online public access catalogs.

Directories. Subject area lists and thematic tools are great entry points for specific types of resources. Directories such as Anywho and Open Directory are directories that help you locate resources. There are many subject area directories such as Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet. There are also good web directories for educators such as Awesome Library.


Reference Tools. Think about the websites you use on a regular basis. The reference tools you use to answer basic questions or solve common problems. If I'm planning a trip, I check Mapquest for directions, National Weather Service for the weather forecast, Delta for my flight, and find a good book to read from Amazon. If I need an expert, I go to All Experts and an almanac to InfoPlease.

Databases. Many large companies provide electronic databases of information. Many of these are subscription services available through libraries. An electronic database is a collection of information organized so that a computer can quickly access requested data. Like a traditional file cabinet, databases are organized by fields, records, and files. A wide range of tools allow users to browse or search the contents of electronic databases.

Subject Matter Websites. A comprehensive source can provide a great foundation of information including primary source documents, news, and reports. News sites may include current events, features, local interest, topical categories, opinion, and advocacy. These can take the form of text, photographs, audio, and video. They may contain works of fiction, folklore, oral histories, and narratives. Some websites contain data and statistics along with advertising, announcements, and sales information. Subject matter websites can be sponsored by many types of individuals and organizations.


Communication and Collaborative Sites. The web is filled with blogs, forums, wikis, and personal websites that provide communication and commentary. Many digital worlds incorporate live chats and video conferencing.

Virtual Learning. From short tutorials to entire online schools, virtual learning is increasing in popularity. These websites may contains syllabus, calendars, learning objects, learning resources, presentation materials, examples, testing, and communication elements. Explore examples at Eduscapes: Distance Learning.

Web-based Recreation. Simulations, games, and activities are great fun. Recreational websites may also contain shopping, music, movies, games, and other entertainment.

Learn more at Web Portals: Rabbit Holes to Grand Gateways.


Scaffolding Virtual Visits

world mapLike the explorers of the past, today's student information scientists need guidance in exploring digital worlds.

What's your information need? Then, you can make good choices about the digital world you need to explore.

How do students make choices?

Speed Factor. Do your students google rather than going to the library? Do they wiki instead of World Book? Of course, it's quick. Sometimes these tools make sense. However students need to understand the implications. Google may be quick to find, but it can take hours to evaluate the findings. A wikipedia is a fast way to find background information, but it's only one source.

Talk to students about each resource and the "speed" factor. For example, an online encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia Britannica may be most efficient.

Coolness Factor. Do they look for the cool stuff and ignore the text-intensive resources? It's an age old problem. Which book cover would you choose: pretty or ugly?

Be sure they're asking the right question: What information is needed to address my question?... and is cool too!

Reading Factor. Do they look for the skinny book?

Reading on the web can be frustrating. Consider providing quality starting points that will lead to successful information explorations. For example, the BBC Famous People page contains easy-to-read biographies and matching quizzes for ten people including Christopher Columbus.

Perspectives Factor. Do they simply look for confirmation or challenge this thinking?

Students often have a difficult time dealing with multiple points of view. The key is helping young explorers understand why people have different opinions. One way to make them aware is through providing access to respected resources that contain different views. Websites like High Country News are a good starting point. Students read the mission to examine the perspective of the news organization.


What kind of explorer are you?

What am I seeking? What questions will it answer?

  • experience
  • opinion/perspective
  • new way of thinking
  • new information
  • facts and statistics
  • evidence to support
  • different, unique perspectives


vikingsViking Googler

Vikings were in search of land, slaves, gold, and natural resources. Like Vikings, googlers are seeking all the treasures of information they can find. Their philosophy is:

Those with the most stuff; wins.

For some people, Google is their first and possibly only starting point. Although this approach may work for some searches, it's not always the best use of time.

Rather than starting with Google, start with the question. What information am I seeking? Carefully narrow the search to the least number of hits rather than the most number of hits. For example if you think a well-known site might contain good information, conduct a Google search within that website using the Advanced Search options. If I do a search for Maya, I get nearly 25 million hits, however if I search for Maya, then I get less than 100. This first one of the list is a fun Maya Adventure. If I search for Maya, then I get a Nova program called Lost King of the Maya. Or, try doing a search for Maya museum and you'll find great museum exhibits.


ColumbusColumbus Clicker

Columbus was seeking a sea route to Asia. Instead he found the Caribbean islands. Like Columbus, some people get off-track and end up somewhere they hadn't planned.

They start with one topic and end up with another.

Clickers sometimes need a plan for their exploration. Create a concept map that can be used as a guide for exploration. Click on the graphic below to enlarge a concept map on the topic of Global Warming.

Research shows that students are more efficient when they use a concept map for searching.

Read Methods for Measuring the Influence of Concept Mapping on Student Information Literacy by Carol A. Gordon.


AfricaMagellan Master

Magellan's exploration led him around the world. Like Magellan, sometimes the inquiry process is more important than the end product.

It's about the journey, not the destination.

To ensure a safe, successful journey, students often benefit from quality starting points and guides. An inquiry-based approach is often an effective approach. Bernie Dodge recently introduced the QuestGarden as a tool to facilitate the development and hosting of WebQuests. In one QuestGarden WebQuest, sixth grade students read the book The Silver Donkey and they act as private investigators during World War I.


AntarcticaAntarctica Answerer

Whether it's landing on the moon or being the first to Antarctica, sometimes it's the final product that matters. The philosophy:

It's about the destination, not the journey.

In some cases, it's impossible to find the answers to questions using traditional resources such as books, periodicals, and local materials. Whether it's tracking a current event or locating unusual information, the digital world may hold the key. However finding answers can be tricky in a world full of multiple perspectives and varied opinions.

The ability to evaluate information, synthesize the results, and draw a conclusion can be a difficult task. Student explorers need practice in applying evaluation criteria, organizing information, and problem solving. Sometimes a place to start is by helping students to see that not everything they find on the Internet is fact. Explore Idiotica for examples.


The Sea TrollsWhich are you?

Personally, I'm a Viking Googler.

With my Danish ancestry, I've always been fascinated with the fact and fiction of Viking culture. The young adult novel The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer reignited this interest.

Focus question. Rather than a general search for Vikings, I narrowed my focus. What evidence is there of Vikings in North America?

Use planning tools. Traced the evidence of Viking on a map of North America.

Apply inquiry-based approach. Created a chart weighing the evidence.

Evaluate, synthesize, conclude. Evaluated many websites, organized data, and decided to take a field trip to one of the sites in Oklahoma.

Learn more at Lamb and Johnson Update: Vikings in Oklahoma.


Dynamic Digital Worlds

Whether you were a naturalist exploring the American West in the 1800s or a web explorer discovering the Internet of the 1990s, you experienced an exciting time in history.

American West of the 1800s

Early American NaturalistsIn Early American Naturalists: Exploring the American West, 1804-1900, John Moring describes the lives and adventures of early American naturalists. Tracing how the views and activities of naturalists changed over time, Moring describes early expeditions in the American West.

Collection. Early explorers such as Lewis and Clark focused on gathering animal specimens for study by scientists. Traveling with people like Daniel Boone and John Colter, Thomas Nuttall traveled the west in the early 1800s sending thousands of specimens back to Philadelphia and Boston. Although Nuttall is credited for identifying many new plants and animals, much of the work of early naturalists was lost. Without good scientific notes, it was difficult to put these materials in a context. Few museums were open to the public and only a few books on these topics were in libraries, most materials were only available to scholars.

Context. By the mid 1800s naturalists began to see the importance of context. For example, Martha Maxwell became known for her work in placing specimens in natural settings for museum exhibits. Visitors could get a sense for the native habitat of the plants and animals.

Conservation. By the late 1800s lead by naturalists like John Muir, people began to see the necessity of conserving the natural places themselves. For example, the National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. While still providing access to the public, this focus on conservation and stewardship is still practiced today. Land management issues related to public lands continue today as people debate issues of sustainable resources, fire management, and land use.

Learn more about the Evolution of the Conservation Movement (1850-1920) from the Library of Congress.

Digital Worlds of the 1990s

Space Shuttle photo courtesy of NASAThe Internet and the World Wide Web has seen a similar transformation over the past decade.

Collection. In the early 1990s, large organizations began to serve information in the form of text documents and graphics. For example, NASA posted text-based reports and individual photographs from space. However the information was difficult to access and was generally only available through government, university, or corporate computers.

Context. As people began to see how the Web could be used to share ideas and information, individuals began putting these resources into a context. For example, schools and libraries shared information relevant to their setting. Bernie Dodge developed an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning incorporating web-based resources called the WebQuest.

Conservation. As digital collections and libraries become more common, we're entering a new phase focusing on providing public access to well-organized, easy-to-access, authoritative information. Decisions are being made about what resources should be shared and how they cab be organized for maximum access. In addition, developer are careful to evaluate materials and provide suggestions for their use. As standardized systems have been developed, it becomes easier for the general public to explore these virtual worlds.

Who's are "new world" conservationists?

What can you do? Plan your own digital worlds!


Planning Digital Worlds

Early explorers traveled the world for a variety of reasons including expansion, gold, natural resources, religious freedom, and the thrill of discovery. Today's information explorers seek digital worlds for information sharing and access, teaching and learning, collaboration, research, and sales.

Go to Information Architecture for the Web for an online course in planning and creating digital worlds.


Standards and consistency are the key to access in digital worlds. Movement within the website should be transparent. Although it's exciting to take a creative approach to information access, also consider a consistent architecture that will ensure ease of use.


  • Objects
  • Organization
  • Metadata. By providing quality metadata you can effectively share your websites and people can more easily locate your resources.


  • Navigation Tools
  • Search Tools
  • Ease of Use
  • 10X10 is a visual search tool focusing on news headlines.
  • Newseum uses a visual tool to compare the headlines of various newspapers.

Web Accessibility


Why duplicate information? Consider ways your digital world can be unique from others. Rather than thinking "old world", think "new world" data.

See unique applications of the web. Don't you wish you would have thought of ebay?



Providing multiple points of view can add breadth and depth to content-rich projects. However it's important to carefully identify perspectives and differentiate facts from opinions.

For example that answer to the question "Who discovered America?" depends on your perspective. When addressing the question "How many planets are in our Solar System," the word planet must be defined and recent discoveries addressed. Can bees learn? Read a Discovery News item to read recent research.

Consider ways to help users explore, analyze and synthesize information. For example the USGS website provides before and after photos of the hurricane Katrina as shown below.

before Katrinaafter Katrina



  • Wikis (pronounced: weekee) are a collaborative information construction environment. This web-based application allows users to add and edit content. Articles are posted and continuously updated by participants. For example Wikipedia is a global, free encyclopedia. Kayak Wiki is a subject specific wiki. If you want to try it, Eduforge has a Sandbox where you play. I created Digital Collections. They use software such as PhpWiki.




Civil War re-enactor

National Geographic: Genographic Project

Explore the past

Explore the future



Developed by Annette Lamb, 10/05. Updated 11/05.