Media literacy

New media literacy standards aim to fight against “declension of the truth”

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Teachers have always taught students how to verify and analyze information, but helping them distinguish fact from fiction became especially difficult last fall.

As former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen circulated on social media and far-right news sites, students asked questions about conspiracy theories and lies in the classroom, and teachers struggled to find the best way to discuss and deal with the misinformation.

This week, the RAND Corporation released a new set of media literacy standards designed to support schools in this task.

The standards are part of RAND’s ongoing project on “Declining the Truth”: a phenomenon RAND researchers describe as “the decreasing role that facts, data and analysis play in our political and civic discourse” .

To create the list, the researchers looked at 35 sets of standards that cover media literacy in one way or another, including state technology skills, standards developed by the International Society for Technology. in education, common basic standards and next generation science standards.

This roadmap is necessary, specifically intended to help students identify reliable sources of information, assess arguments and distinguish opinions from facts, said Alice Huguet, policy researcher at RAND and first author of the report.

Media literacy can cover skills such as analyzing political messages and identifying misinformation, such as conspiracy theories or spoofed images. But the term itself is a catch-all and can refer to the analysis, evaluation and creation of all kinds of communication. Existing sets of media literacy standards often cover things like keyboarding and web design.

“As we read the different media literacy standards, they didn’t always feel consistently applicable to the issues we face today,” Huguet said.

“Not just fact-checking”

RAND’s standards are organized into four sections:

  1. Seek a full understanding of the facts
  2. Identify reliable sources of information
  3. Assess the credibility of the information and the strength of the arguments
  4. Responsible engagement to counter Truth Decay

The skills are not subject specific; they focus on developing thinking habits, like recognizing your own knowledge limits and questioning the motivations of media creators, instead of developing knowledge about the content realm, Huguet said. “It’s a mindset that we can promote in all of our classes,” she said.

The standards ask students to develop strategies they can use to fill knowledge gaps, while understanding that some tools, like search engines, can limit prospects. They require students to be able to assess whether sources meet certain journalistic or scientific standards, analyze whether an argument is supported by evidence, and examine how the social, political, and historical context of the sources influences their meaning. And they ask students to be open to changing their minds about issues when they encounter new information.

“One of the things we try to get out of standards is that media literacy isn’t just about checking the facts,” Huguet said. “It’s about helping students think about this interaction they have with their digital and real environment. “

For example, the standards address information sharing on social media: monitoring the consequences of what is shared in digital spaces and sharing “evidence-rooted” content.

Instilling these skills in future generations could help slow some of the degrading trends in truth, such as the confluence of opinion and rumor with fact, Huguet said. “It starts somewhere,” she said. “It starts with sharing information that might not be legitimate. “

But what if it’s not the students who believe the misinformation – like the false claim that the election was stolen – but the teachers? In the days following the uprising on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, some school districts learned that their employees had participated.

“It is the most difficult nut to break,” Huguet said. “It actually reminds me of a lot of social and emotional learning. … It’s the same over there, where I hear people say, “What if a teacher doesn’t have social and emotional learning skills? How are they supposed to teach it to the students? “

Ideally, Huguet said, schools and districts would have a holistic approach to media education that would also help teachers develop these skills, as some school systems have done for SEL.

The challenge of supporting teachers while supporting students “hasn’t stopped us before,” Huguet said.

Explore the root causes?

Sarah McGrew, an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland College Park, who studies the spread of disinformation online, agrees that it is important to have media education tools specifically focused on browsing the web. our current information landscape. “Teachers need all the support and advice we can give them,” she said.

But McGrew, who was not involved in writing the RAND standards and reviewed them at the request of Education Week, said she would like to focus more on how students approach to assess the information should change depending on the medium.

“Evaluating online information specifically requires a different set of tools than print sources,” said McGrew, who previously co-led the Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning Project, a program to teach students how engage with online political information.

The project teaches ‘side reading’: when students discover an unfamiliar website, they should not first spend time trying to analyze the information, but rather see what other reliable sources are saying about it. new source.

“You need to have a deep enough knowledge of the content to tackle anything on any topic and analyze it for bias,” as the RAND standards suggest, McGrew said. Side reading encourages students to recognize that they don’t know everything, she said, and to draw on experts where appropriate.

Teaching this understanding to students is the first standard on RAND’s list: “Recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge or understanding of the facts. ”

Yet teaching students to seek information to fill knowledge gaps is not enough, said Whitney Phillips, assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, who studies disinformation, political communication and digital ethics. Students should also understand that the tools they use to do this, such as search engines, are designed to fuel misinformation.

For example, said Phillips, a student might hear the phrase “stop the theft” – referring to the far-right movement baselessly claiming that the election was “stolen” from Trump through electoral fraud. widespread – and Google to figure out what that means.

Sites that try to spread the theory use these terms, knowing that this will cause their pages to show up in search results. “This is how the keywords are played,” Phillips said. Teaching about disinformation should also include teaching about this type of context, she said.

The RAND standards include this (“Understanding how modern information sources and tools can limit the facts and perspectives available”), but Phillips said she would like to see a more explicit focus on teaching students of the way we got to this point.

“It’s not that ‘the truth has deteriorated,” Phillips said. “It’s that the dynamics of networks, the attention economy, algorithmic recommendations and a polarized information ecosystem. asymmetric have transformed the relationship of many people to the truth. “

“We won’t get very far if we just focus on the symptoms,” added Phillips. “And it’s going to require some big, tough conversations about not only that we’re in this mess, but why.”

Discussing the root causes of disinformation in the classroom can be difficult, said Phillips, because one of its drivers is the far-right media. Explaining that these outlets have “built a business model on spreading lies” may suggest that teachers are politically biased, Phillips said.

But teachers must face the reality that the facts have turned partisan, she said, “If we really care about the facts, we have to be prepared to call for systemic efforts to manipulate the truth. “

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