“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”
Those opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities seem wildly accurate in describing the our own digital age — especially when it comes to our students.
Students most definitely need help in navigating the wealth (and swamp) of information available on the internet — a good place to start is fact checking.
A few years ago I was reviewing student work cited sources and came upon an interesting source for a student paper — a website created by a student. So…my middle school student was using another student’s website as a resource for information. Her rationale, “It came up first when I googled it.”
This led to an interesting class discussion. Who do you trust? How do you know this is a good source? Why should you care? What is at stake?
Getting started with Digital Literacy
Have you showed your students the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website? It’s a great way to start a lesson on how easy it is to create a credible-looking website. When you share with your students the 2006 study in which a class of seventh graders believed the website was “very credible” and couldn’t find proof that the website was false even after they were told that it was, your students will be shocked. Of course, the study is old, and our today students are wise, right?!
Even adults get caught not checking facts. In 2015, Johannes Bohannon released a study that claimed eating chocolate helped people lose weight. Bohannon’s “study” was not only intentionally faulty, but it was released in order to see if publishers and news outlets vet information they are going to publish. The experiment exposed several news agencies that didn’t check their sources and published the “findings” anyway. In their rush to be the first on this scoop with its flashy “Chocolate helps you lose weight” headline, publishers disseminated faulty information — which was both damaging to the public and the reputation of the publishers.
Keep Working at It!
In spite of our class discussion on fact checking, my students continued to use the “first thing that came up on Google.” Why? Fact checking is hard work! It’s a rabbit hole of twisty turns and snarly nests! Have you ever tried to verify a simple quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain?! You’ll need a machete to cut through the digital jungle of information!
Start small. Ask students to verify information with several sources. Make a “Prove It!” poster for your classroom and point to it often! Don’t stop challenging students to support their research and challenge their findings.
February 17 is Digital Learning Day
What digital skills do you want your students to have gain by being in your class?
A skill as small as “question everything” will go a long way in serving your students as lifelong citizens, consumers, producers, and learners.
If you need support in helping your students gain digital literacy, I have several resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you’d like more ideas on bringing digital literacy to your students, you may be interested in this related post: Ways to Strengthen Digital Literacy.