This year’s election was a keen reminder to all of us in the civic education community of the importance of teaching students how to evaluate online information. Fake news--in the form of click bait, political propaganda, falsified images, and spurious memes--permeates social media feeds today. Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed highlights the problem in the video linked here. How do we teach students (and citizens) to evaluate online information in order to make informed decisions?
The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) and the News Literacy Project (NLP) are both taking up the worthy task helping students evaluate online information. SHEG has recently developed and administered assessment tasks for civic online reasoning--the ways in which students search for, assess, and evaluate online information. Civic online reasoning consists of three core competencies: 1) Who is behind the information? 2) What is the evidence? and 3) What do other sources say?
In increasing order of complexity, here are three performance tasks SHEG developed to assess students' use of online information.
- Students are asked to identify who is behind the information by examining various page components from Slate.com. Students are asked to distinguish between news, sponsored content (which is often disguised), and advertisements.
- Students have to determine whether an anonymous photograph of mutated daisies on Imagur provides evidence about the impact of a Japanese nuclear reactor meltdown. See some sample students responses here.
- Students are provided with two web pages on gun control and asked which page would be a better starting point for research on gun control. The first page is linked to Duke University’s website. The second page is a Wikipedia article. This task is complicated by the fact that students are often taught superficial ways to evaluate information. Many students are taught to trust .edu sites, but never to use Wikipedia. In this case, however, the .edu site is an unknown user’s personal webpage hosted on Duke’s server and contains articles reprinted from NRA brochures.
The News Literacy Project has developed a suite of teaching tools and elearning modules for evaluating online information:
- Online rumors provide a teachable moment. The Dissect It! graphic organizer helps students understand the emotional responses and sharing motivators for rumors. Viral rumors appeal to us by appealing to the emotional responses of dread, hope, hostility, and curiosity. People spread these rumors for four primary reasons: self-interest, influence, altruism, and malice.
- Ten Questions for Fake News Detection is a tool that allows students to identify potential red flags that should make them skeptical about the credibility of the news source.
- NLP’s Checkology.org website provides an elearning course with four modules: filtering news and information, exercising civic freedom, navigating today’s landscape, and how two know what to believe.
We have much work to do in the field of civic education in order to help our students become informed participatory citizens. As the methods of receiving and processing information change in the 21st century, our teaching approaches must keep up. SHEG’s civic online reasoning and NLP’s news literacy tools can help us accomplish this task.