This week was all about thinking. Taking the time to think before you post, think before you repost, think before you react, think before you judge, think before you emote, and to think about your thinking. There is so much information, misinformation, and disinformation coming at students these days, that the job of educators to teach critical thinking skills is far more important than ever before. The reading this week on the topic of deciphering and authenticating information spoke to me the most. Having spent years teaching high school students, I have seen first hand the need for students to be taught the appropriate research skills. Not only the appropriate research skills, but how to determine if a source is authentic, and to think critically about the media they are engaging with.
The report Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century sums up the opportunity for educators quite nicely:
“Misinformation abounds online, but so do mechanisms for self correction. In such a world, we can only trust established institutions so far. We all must learn how to read one source of information against another; to understand the contexts within which information is produced and circulated; to identify the mechanisms that ensure the accuracy of information as well as realizing under which circumstances those mechanisms work best. Confronted with a world in which information is unreliable, many of us fall back on cynicism, distrusting everything we read. Rather, we should foster a climate of healthy skepticism, in which all truth claims are weighed carefully, but there is an ethical commitment to identifying and reporting the truth.” – page 46
This spoke to me for a variety of reasons. Beyond looking for reputable institutions, the report encourages a deeper dive into the “contexts” in which material is produced. What are the motivations for producing the article? Where might funding come from for the website? What affiliations might the source institution have? Are they a for profit or non-profit institution? These are just some of the ways to understand context. Furthermore, I found it refreshing that the report encourages educators to work with students to move beyond “cynicism”, which is easy for educators and students to slip into, but to move forward and be “healthy skeptics”, challenging what we read, and committing to research to find the truth.
There are many great resources that exist to help educators to teach students to become more critical of the media they consume. I want to highlight some of them here. However, before I dive into the first one, I want to comment on one of the articles from our additional reading. The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online from the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center interviewed over 100 scholars, technology professionals, and strategic thinkers about the future of fake news. This article is fascinating in that the results were split, half of the experts believe the situation around misinformation will improve and the other half believe that the situation will only worsen. To me this only proves the fact, that as educators, we must continue to teach critical literacy and critical thinking skills. With the amount of information only increasing, teaching our students to be healthy skeptics is a mandatory skill for their future success.
Now on to the resources for educators and parents. The first one that I would like to highlight is the media smarts website. This website is dedicated to digital and media literacy, and is a Canadian Non-Profit. As stated on their website: “Our vision is that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.” There are great resources from how to authenticate information, to the impacts of misinformation, to verifying online news, to the ethics of sharing information.
The next website is the European Association for Viewer Interests. They are a non-profit organization that empowers individuals to be active, engaged citizens in today’s increasingly challenging media environment. Besides being a non-profit, they are also funded from a variety of well trusted sources. Two particular resources that I want to highlight for parents and educators are the Online News Verification Game and the 10 Types of Misleading News. The Online News Verification Game, is a game that students can play to determine the quality of an online resource. This one appealed to me because of its gamification approach to building critical analysis skills. Additionally, students play the game in groups which contributes to building collaboration and communication skills. The second resource is an infographic that highlights 10 types of misleading news. We all know that “fake news”can be damaging, but so can misleading news, and it can be damaging in a variety of ways. This infographic can easily be posted in the classroom, or shared through a LMS for ease of use.
I have been a fan of John Green and his YouTube channel Crash Course World History for many years. What started off as a a history based YouTube Channel has grown into a variety of subjects from English to Science to Philosophy and others. In January this year, a series entitled Navigating Digital Information was launched to help students, teachers and parents alike to navigate information on the internet. I like this series for several reasons. It is supported by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school, and Media Wise, whose curriculum is currently being developed by Stanford History Education Group. Additionally, throughout the series there are many research studies that are quoted and his commentary is grounded in good research. In the second episode, John Green recommends three questions when assessing the validity of a resource and fact checking:
- Who is behind the information?
- What is the evidence for their claim?
- What do other sources say about the organization and its claims?
The final resource that I wish to comment on is the MediaWise website. This is a great source for articles on the topics of misinformation. Additionally, as mentioned above this is the source for finding curriculum for MS and HS students on fact checking and deciphering media. The curriculum is called Civic Online Reasoning, and will be available this fall.
I am interested in hearing from other educators this week on how they tackle this subject? What do you think of the resources listed above? And what resources do you use to teach your students to be critical in regards to online media?