Focus on media literacy in the digital age
For K-12 students, there has never been a time in their lives when information wasn’t simply accessible by a Google search. But does that mean these digital natives are savvy when it comes to knowing what information to trust?
The answer is overwhelmingly no, reports the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) in a 2016 study.
“Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to switch from Facebook to Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend,” the study said. “But when it comes to evaluating the information circulating on social media, they are easily fooled.”
In the study, SHEG asked middle and high school students to rate whether content was unbiased based on its source — sponsored content for middle school students and a National Rifle Association chart on gun laws. for high school students. He found that the students were overwhelming “unprepared” to make this judgment.
Previous research has found similar results. Education week reported on a 2015 study from the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut, which found that only 14% of seventh-graders in the study were able to correctly assess the reliability of information in line.
“We teach online reading comprehension in middle school classrooms,” says Ian O’Byrne, who served as a member of the lab. “As we were teaching students to evaluate information online, we realized that children couldn’t do it.”
O’Byrne says most of the time, his students gave the first answer they came across, rather than consulting multiple sources, to get their work done faster.
To whet a student’s skepticism, O’Byrne suggests schools reach out and teach this kind of critical thinking.
Teach students to evaluate digital sources
“The teaching of media literacy requires the guidance of the teacher and administrator support that this is an important program,” says Kelly Mendoza, media literacy expert at Common Sense.
Often teachers are so overwhelmed with requests to teach to their standards that they don’t have time to cover digital literacy, she says.
Common Sense hopes to combat this with the release of new media literacy toolkits designed for educators to teach critical thinking within statewide standards like Common Core.
The toolkits are separated into lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students.
SHEG also has a popular curriculum plan called “Read Like a Historian” which is used in several classrooms.
“Media consumption has become the norm rather than the exception for today’s youth,” reads Common Sense’s media literacy backgrounder. “And with recent unsubstantiated news circulating on social media and other online channels, young people often struggle to decipher the credible sources of sponsored advertising content.”
Mendoza and O’Byrne agree that the basic skill of teach students to be lateral readers is the first step to improving their media literacy.
“We need students to read multiple sources and compare, not just find one source and follow it,” says O’Byrne.