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How media literacy is critical to saving our democracy


[Editor’s note: This post by Alan November, written exclusively for eSchool Media, is part of a series of upcoming articles by this notable education thought leader. Check back on Monday, January 23rd for the next must-read post!]

“At present, we fear that democracy is threatened by the ease with which disinformation on civic issues can spread and flourish. … If the children are the future, the future could be very ill-informed. ”—Stanford History Education Group, 2016.

The fact that 80 percent of middle school students in a recent study could not differentiate between fake news and authentic news on the web shows that we as educators in the digital age need to convey media literacy better. This means that we pay as much attention to students as they are intelligent consumers of information as we pay attention to what we filter in our schools.

In 12 states and 7,800 student responses, the overwhelming majority of our students from middle schools to universities have been easily tricked into believing falsehoods are true or believable. An NPR report on the study said, “One exercise after another, researchers were ‘shocked’ – their word, not ours – at how many students failed to effectively assess the credibility of the information.”

I am not shocked. When I was visiting the country to attend schools, I learned that many of our students have a false confidence in their web and media literacy. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to laugh scornfully when asked if they can use Google. A fourth grader from a top private school instructed me, “Sir, if you have any questions, you need to be able to use Google.”

Learn from the best innovations in education! Join education thought leader Alan November for his 2017 edtech conference, Building Learning Communities, in Boston from July 26-28, bringing together hundreds of K-12 and college leaders from around the world to discuss the world’s most successful innovations in education .

To expose students’ false confidence in their own abilities, I present them with a search challenge that I know will lead to incorrect information on the top page of results. (Most students only look at the top page of the results.) The scary part is the students’ complete ignorance of any framework to question the validity of their results. The problem is that students don’t know what they don’t know.

I want to be wrong, but like the Stanford researchers, I believe we are in serious trouble. Simply put, we’re not preparing students to make informed decisions when it comes to Twitter, Facebook, Google searches, or web-based content. Even if students pass our print-based reading tests, they are basically illiterate when it comes to web-based content.

(Next page: How to maintain student media literacy)

Alan November

Alan November is the founder of the edtech consulting company November Learning http://novemberlearning.com/. Join Alan for his edtech conference Building Learning Communities 2017 (http://novemberlearning.com/blc-education-conference-2017/) in Boston July 26-28, bringing together hundreds of education leaders from around the world to find the world’s most successful educational innovations http://novemberlearning.com/blc-education-conference-2017/blc17-session-and-speaker-descriptions/.

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