Media literacy courses help high school students spot fake news.
When AP United States history students at Aragon High School in San Mateo, California scoured minimumwage.com’s professionally designed pages, most concluded it was a solid, unbiased source of fact and analysis. They noted the menu of research reports, graphs and videos, and the About page, which describes the website as a project by a “non-profit research organization” called the Employment Policies Institute.
But then her teacher, Will Colglazier, demonstrated how a few more exploratory clicks – critical beyond the website itself – revealed that the Employment Policies Institute is viewed by the Center for Media and Democracy as a front group advocated by lobbyists for the restaurant and hotel was founded industries.
“I have some bright students and many of them were upset that they couldn’t infer this,” said Colglazier, who videotaped the episode in January. “You have been betrayed.”
One student replied out loud: “Fudge nuggets!”
The exercise was part of Civic Online Reasoning, a series of news literacy lessons developed by researchers at Stanford University and tested by teachers at a dozen schools. Launched in 2015, the Stanford Initiative joined a handful of new efforts to help students cope with misinformation and fake news online – a problem as old as dial-up modems but now social Media and partisan news bubbles are amplified. Supporters of this effort warn that, despite the reputation of young people as “digital natives,” they are pitifully unprepared to separate online fact from fiction, and the danger is not only for science but also for citizenship.
Stanford’s Mythbreakers, led by Education Professor Sam Wineburg and PhD student Sarah Cotcamp McGrew, have field-tested 15 news literacy assignments of varying degrees of difficulty, and about 50 more are in the works. Can middle school students spot “native advertising” (advertising disguised as an article) on a crowded news website? Can high school kids verify the authenticity of an alarming picture posted on Facebook? Will students investigate the sources of controversial claims? Are you going to seek confirmation? By and large, the answer is no, according to a corporate report published in November.
“Overall,” the report says, “the ability of young people to ponder information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: gloomy.”
The message literacy initiative is based on the Stanford History Education Group, which Wineburg founded in 2002 to train teachers on primary sources and to help students critically evaluate historical claims. The group also created a free digital curriculum called “Reading Like a Historian,” which Wineburg says has been downloaded more than 3 million times.
“We live in a world where our library begins with a G,” Wineburg said for Google.
Even before a flood of fibs and forgery swamped our final election cycle, Wineburg and Co. realized that online news readers need many of the same skills a good historian uses, such as identifying the sources of allegations and asking questions about theirs To provide evidence. After all, what appears on your Twitter or Facebook feed can come from anywhere, and post-election BuzzFeed analysis found that the bogus things spread faster than real news thanks to non-partisan readers who blindly share sensational headlines .
“This is not just a problem with children,” said Wineburg. “Reliable information is to democratic functioning what clean air and clean water are to public health.”
Fortunately, long-neglected civics seems to be on the rise in many states, which has helped groups like the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University get their message across to the K-12 classrooms. The center has been offering a course to students since 2007 and has since expanded to secondary schools by running summer teacher training workshops and making course materials available online through its Digital Resource Center. It is planned to launch a massive online open-ended course (aka MOOC) in January entitled “Understanding the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens”.
An early K-12 adopter of the center’s messaging literacy lessons was Janis Schachter, a social studies teacher at Northport High School in Long Island, New York. Schachter attended one of the centre’s first summer classes and has been teaching Northport’s elective news literacy course since 2011, which meets New York State graduation requirements for “participation in government”.
“My students are all about social media. You have never known life without her, and this is where you get all your information, ”said Schachter. “Whether this information comes from a news agency or from your uncle, it all looks the same to her.”
Little by little, Schacher’s students learn to sort everything – to look for multiple, informed, named sources and for claims backed by evidence that they can independently verify.
“I tell the kids it’s not fair that we have to do all this work, but the reality of the internet is that we do it,” said Schachter, who also emphasizes that students only have to check the news for that they want to respond, whether by voting, protesting, or simply spreading the story by sharing it.
Still, learning messaging skills is one thing and being motivated to use those skills is another. If this tantalizing headline on our Facebook news feed fits our political stance, why is digging undermining it?
The fact that so many of us are now receiving our messages in partisan online echo chambers is causing “a perfect fake news storm,” according to Joe Kahne, professor of education at the University of California, Riverside.
The good news is that a new study, co-authored by Kahne, based on a national survey of young people aged 15-27, found that self-reported media literacy training significantly reduced the likelihood of people making a factually false claim believe even if so it is consistent with their political position.
Kahne plans to examine messaging literacy efforts to find out what specific strategies get young people to appreciate facts, whether they reinforce their existing beliefs or contradict them. Right now, a popular suggestion from messaging educators is to tap into teenagers’ instinctive dislike of people telling them what to think.
“One of the messages that we have been trying to emphasize lately with the advent of fake news is: Are you mistaken?” Said Jonathan Anzalone, assistant director of the Center for News Literacy. “Wouldn’t you prefer to see for yourself?”
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
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