Media literacy

Educators fight disinformation through media literacy

As misleading reports, disinformation and false data spread around the world, students of all ages need better instruction on how to assess media and data. Some universities and K-12 school systems have developed media education courses and standards to help. Credit: Jackie Mader / The Hechinger Report

When Jevin West read the high-number news on Covid-19 and last fall’s election, he continued to find new examples to bring to his class on data literacy and disinformation at the University of Washington. .

West, Associate Professor, and Professor Carl Bergstrom teach “Calling BS: Data Reasoning in a Digital World” (although the course listing uses the most colorful language). Their course covers everything from interpreting data visualizations to understanding publication bias in academic literature to identifying fake news. They never lacked material to work.

“Almost every day there were things we could put on,” West, an associate professor at the University of Washington, said of the fall. “You have endless material to shoot in real time. “

Launched in 2017, Calling BS became an instant hit at the University of Washington; it quickly fills its capacity of 150 students each year. The program – including the YouTube videos of the lectures – is also available free of charge to any teacher who wishes to use it. To date, faculty at over 100 colleges, including overseas schools, community colleges and Ivy League universities, have called for the course to be adopted in what West describes as a “BS movement.”

“It’s hard to learn and trust information if we’re not aware of some of these ways that information is manipulated,” West said.

“Today’s information environment is extremely exciting and there are all kinds of access, but there really are huge challenges and pitfalls and dangers. ”

Peter Adams, Senior Vice President of Education, News Literacy Project

As conspiracy theories spread across social media and deceptive reports are shared in echo chambers across the internet, educators across the country – and around the world – are trying to tackle disinformation by teaching students how to be better consumers of news, media and data. Some universities, like UW, offer individual courses in this direction. Others have developed media education minors or even graduate certificates focused on the subject. At the K-12 level, states began to integrate media education into their standards, and programs began to spring up aimed at training students to be better consumers of information.

Related: Can we teach how to get out of political polarization?

Whether focused on media education or data education, research suggests a need for this type of education in general. A 2016 Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that a significant number of middle school, high school and college students could not adequately judge the credibility of information online.

“Overall, the ability of young people to reason about information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: darkWrote the study authors.

College students were easily duped by biased websites with “high production values” including links to news organizations and “polite” About “pages. Over 80% of college kids couldn’t tell the difference between sponsored content and actual news.

The college exercise was hardly included in the study because the researchers thought it was too easy, said Sam Wineburg, a Stanford professor and lead author of the report. “We were blown away,” he said of the overall results.

A follow-up report in 2019 found equally dismal results. Almost all of the high school students surveyed had “difficulty discerning fact from fiction online” and 96% of students did not question the credibility of an unreliable website.

According to experts, what is needed is an emphasis on media literacy in the classroom, starting in the third or fourth grade.

“We have an obligation as educators to do this,” said Peter Adams, senior vice president of education at the News Literacy Project. “Today’s information environment is extremely exciting and there are all kinds of access, but there really are huge challenges and pitfalls and dangers. “

More than a third of middle school students say they rarely or never learned to judge the reliability of news sources, which is “really the foundation of media literacy,” said Helen Lee Bouygues, President of the Reboot Foundation , who is an expert in disinformation and critical thinking.

In a 2016 Stanford University study, more than 80% of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between sponsored content and actual news.

However, research on how best to teach students to interpret the information they come across online is limited, Wineburg said. He criticizes programs that he says encourage students to “play 20 questions” by carefully examining every facet of a website. “We teach the credibility of the web like it’s 2002,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite of what professional fact-checkers do. “

Fact checkers, according to Wineburg research, don’t dig deep into a website to determine its credibility, but look for components of it in new browser tabs, to get an outside perspective. Teaching these strategies to students has shown positive results in recent studies.

Some believe that partnering with journalists to address media literacy could also help. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans believe the news media have “the greatest responsibility” in reducing fake news and disinformation.

Two of the News Literacy Project’s most popular programs do just that. Checkology, a free online learning platform, is designed for grades 6-12 students and offers interactive lessons from journalists and media experts on how to apply critical thinking skills and to interpret and consume information. The NewsLitCamp, which targets educators, also relies on journalists. For one day, a school partners with a local newsroom to bring together teachers, school librarians and media specialists with journalists to learn about issues such as journalism standards and practices, current judgment and prejudice and the role of social media.

Related: Train on social networks

Despite such programs, experts remain concerned that teaching media literacy and identifying disinformation is not yet a priority in the classroom.

“In some districts English teachers have almost no flexibility to work in something like this and in others they do,” Adams said, adding that social studies teachers have a little more time. opportunities and flexibility to integrate this literacy into the classroom.

Media or information literacy shouldn’t be a welcoming unit or one-time lesson, either, Adams warned. Educators need to integrate it into teaching throughout the school year, he said.

Calling BS, the University of Washington course, tries to resolve the difficulties of incorporating such lessons into the classroom. West and Bergstrom have tried to make the curriculum – and the individual elements of it – easy for overworked high school teachers to incorporate into the courses they already teach.

The course primarily focuses on how data is created, manipulated, and shared, which West says could be taught in just about any classroom. At the University of Washington, students over 40 majors have enrolled in the class. Elsewhere, the course has been integrated with courses in several areas including engineering, statistics, English, economics and business.

“It touches everything. It touches all subjects, ”West said.

As new technologies and social media platforms emerge, Adams said it was “of vital importance” to formally integrate this literacy training into the curriculum.

“Students have a right to it,” he said. “Information is clearly the basis of their civic agency and civic empowerment. If someone can misinform you, they can hijack the power of your civic voice.

This story on media literacy was produced by The Hechinger report, an independent, non-profit news organization focused on inequalities and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger newsletter.

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