Thursday, December 15, 2016

What should educators do about fake news?

The fake news phenomenon has been developing alongside the growth of social media for years, but it is getting more attention presently because of the important role accurate and inaccurate information can play in a presidential election. Since 50% of young adults get their news primarily online, and teachers observe their younger students doing the same, many educators have growing concerns about their students' abilities to identify the real from the fake news on the internet.

The most alarming statistics came recently from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, 82% of middle schoolers were unable to distinguish between "sponsored content" and a real news story on a website. When these young learners do academic research and find out about the broader world through the internet, are they be able to tell the difference between real and fake?

Together with my colleagues at school and my peers in other schools, I am developing strategies and plans for addressing fake news with our students. Before we start talking with students, however, it is important to check on our own ability to accurately identify fake and real news. Pew Research Center released a study today that, among other information, shows one in four adults have shared fake news.


What's more, the results of an Ipsos Study released last week showed that, when tested, adults rated fake news as "somewhat" or "very" accurate at least 75% of the time. They even broke down the percentages of adults who recognized and believed certain fake news headlines were true.

Source: Buzzfeed

This data about adults' abilities to identify fake news is concerning. It means that we have to remain vigilant and provide ongoing professional learning for teachers on fake news. Not only is it important for our students to be critical consumers of media, it is essential that teachers remain up-to-date with the new and best methods for evaluating information.

Here are a few resources that educators can use to get started:

1. DigCit@SJP - Deep Dive: Communication & Responsibility   
Developed by my colleague Julie Cremin and I, this page is part of a larger website that served as training modules for our faculty on digital citizenship and continues to serve as a resource for our entire school community. The page linked above is full of our favorite resources – including Snopes, Common Sense Education, ConnectSafely, the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, and more – for helping students understand the importance of being critical consumers and of being honest and positive contributors to the internet.

2. Stanford History Education Group - Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning 
Start by reading the executive summary from the Stanford study mentioned at the top of this post, but continue scrolling to see the activities researchers used to carry out the study and samples responses. It is a powerful read and it would be rather easy to use the same activities with the adults and students in your school community to help get the conversation about fake news started.

3. PBS NewsHour - Lesson Plan: How to teach your students about fake news
Not only does this lesson plan realistically tackle fake news in a 50 minute class period, it is full of links to studies, articles, and websites that you and your students can reference as you work together to evaluate online information moving forward.

4. ConnectSafely - How and why to avoid sharing fake news 
This short article explains what fake news is, how to help yourself and your students recognize it, what to do once you've spotted it, and how we can all work together to combat fake news and make sure the information we find online in the future will be grounded in fact and analyzed with honesty. 

Although Craig Silverman has been consistently warning us about fake news on Buzzfeed for the past 6 months, it is an issue that all of us must take responsibility for as consumers and creators of online media. School administrators and teachers can work with students to help them understand the difference by recognizing that research and information gathering has changed in the past decade, paying attention to media patterns as they shift over time, and giving students ample opportunities to be critical consumers.