Geoff Johnson: Students Should Learn Skills Used by Fact Checkers

The caged struggle for all that is social media still reports events in different ways on different – sometimes political – agendas compared to traditional professionally edited and curated media.

And this, more than anything else, has become an important lesson for children to learn in any modern social studies program.

Social media, unconstrained by editorial fact-checking or any other ethical basis, has little control over how information is presented, while traditional organized media are subject to technical and ethical guidelines, imposed by journalists and professional editors.

It is therefore disturbing that a recent report concludes that Canadian students do poorly when it comes to discerning the credibility of unrestricted online information versus competently edited media.

The good news is that Canadian students can learn simple skills to do much better in terms of distinguishing between legitimate information and the slag that makes up so much of Facebook, Instagram, and the like.

This is the finding of a national study of 2,324 students in Grades 7 to 12 – the first of its kind to examine what Canadian students actually do when asked to assess the reliability of sources and online allegations.

The findings are detailed in The Digital Media Literacy Gap, a report published by CIVIX, a non-political and non-aligned Canadian civic education charity that takes news, especially information about political events, and turns it into a good time to learn. learning.

“Find the Facts” is a CIVIX verification skills program that teaches students how to assess information online with the same sophisticated “reading” techniques used by professional fact checkers.

One conclusion of the CIVIX report is that traditional “mindful reading” strategies, while appropriate for teaching students how to analyze a variety of forms of print literature, are not effective as a learning tool when applied to the tsunami. information and disinformation online.

Careful reading focuses on the specific details, vocabulary or even syntax of a text passage or poem in order to understand a deeper meaning. It involves thoughtful and critical analysis, the purpose of which is to discern a more detailed understanding of the form of the text, the writer’s intentions, and the text’s broader meanings.

It works great for a student studying literature from Shakespeare to Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje.

But “careful reading” is not effective if a student assignment requires making decisions about the veracity or the agenda disguised behind many social media posts. This requires the student to engage in what social media experts call “side reading”.

Lateral reading involves researching a topic through the various tabs that result from searching for information online. It allows the student to locate the key context on the sources and allegations, as opposed to analyzing the information itself.

Side reading techniques are at the heart of the program and include targeted keyword research that includes checking a source’s reputation and related information on organized sites like Wikipedia, as opposed to left-oriented Facebook posts. or right.

“Students made remarkable gains in using effective strategies to verify information online,” says Dr Patricia Brooks, school psychologist at CUNY, who led the research. “One of the biggest gains has been their use of Wikipedia. Teachers often tell students not to use Wikipedia, but it’s actually a great way for students to navigate an unfamiliar topic.

Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington, co-designed what are known as CIVIX-recommended CTRL-F techniques for teaching children how to distinguish propaganda from fact.

“Educators who use older methods of teaching media literacy often know that something is wrong,” he says. “They just can’t figure out what. With the right training and the right equipment, the changes can be quite dramatic.

The pan-Canadian study of students in Grades 7 to 12, conducted with external assessors, examined the effectiveness of the CIVIX program and found that CTRL-F students were more likely to read sideways and assess accurately the reliability of sources and claims, compared to control groups using traditional “close reading” analysis techniques.

This is important, because as American journalist Linda Ellerbee wrote, “Media literacy is going to make the difference between whether children are a tool of mass media or whether mass media is a tool children” can use ”.

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Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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