PhD student profile: Christopher Leeder

Christopher Leeder

Christopher Leeder: Helping users determine credibility of online information

While some instructors prohibit students from using Wikipedia as a source when conducting research, PhD student Chris Leeder takes a more pragmatic view of the online, user-generated knowledge base. “Students are going to use it, so it’s important for them to know how to evaluate the information they find. Actually, I’d like to see Wikipedia used more in the classroom.”

As head graduate student instructor for SI 110: “Introduction to Information Studies,” Chris is planning workshops and lectures on Wikipedia this semester to help his students develop the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate the information found online.

His areas of research interest center on information literacy and credibility evaluation skills. “By the time they arrive at college, students are assumed to be online-savvy, but many of them rely too heavily on Google,” he says. “They have no understanding of how a search engine works, nor any idea of the algorithms involved.”

To help address that problem, as part of his dissertation research, Chris is developing a browser plug-in he calls InCredibility. This software is a collaborative learning tool that includes social aspects and an evaluation checklist to help users determine the reliability of information they find online. He is currently testing a prototype in his SI 110 class and seeking grant funding to develop the final product, which could be used in both high school and college classes.

Chris entered the PhD program in 2009, following graduation from the University at Albany with a master’s in library and information sciences (MLIS). While at Albany, he read an article by UMSI professor Karen Markey, describing her Bibliobouts project. Bibliobouts is a game-like program in which students build a credible bibliography using online resources. He wrote to Markey, who is now his advisor, and began collaborating with her on Bibliobouts even before starting his doctoral program at UMSI.

Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York, Chris selected the University of California-Berkeley for his undergraduate degree in American Studies. Following graduation, he spent several years in the San Francisco area working in local theatre, writing, producing, and directing. He also tried his hand at screenwriting before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in information studies. Now he’s evaluating career options following his PhD, which he expects to receive in 2014.

“I’m very interested in the new directions that libraries are taking,” he says. He attended Wikimedia’s GLAMcamp in Washington, DC, to learn about ways Wikimedia proposes to work with galleries, libraries, archives and museums to produce open-access content freely available to the public.

As an example of the compatibility between wikis and libraries, he cites the Ford Presidential Library and Museum’s welcoming their first Wikipedian in Residence, MSI student Michael Barera. “The Ford Library is taking innovative steps to digitize and make their collections available online,” he notes.

In both libraries and classrooms, Chris advocates for open access as he teaches users how to sift through today’s wealth of information and separate the gold from the dross in order to become effective appraisers of knowledge.

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