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Published March 26, 2019 | Multidisciplinary

Teaching How to Navigate the Sea of Digital Information, if not You, then Who?

In the past information was found mostly in libraries where it was vetted and curated by librarians. Now with advancements in technology and the Internet, anyone can submit content on the World Wide Web; however, there are no “librarians” to assess the quality of the information that appears online.

Critical thinking, digital skills and an understanding of the consequences of our online behaviour are skills needed to perform the complex the action of website evaluation.  These skills can be infused in lessons throughout all disciplines so that students develop the ability to analyse information found on the Web.

How can teachers help students improve these skills without taking time away from the course content?

The website Media Smarts - Canada's Center for Digital and Media Literacy, gives a very useful tip: “Teach about media, not just with media”. They say any time you’re using media in the classroom, look for a media education opportunity. Take a minute to teach students something about how to spot misinformation.

  1. Before the students begin to read an online text, teachers can use modeling as an instructional strategy:
    • What’s in the headline?
      • I should be leery if it is overly provocative or shocking.
      • The headline doesn’t always tell the whole story so I read a little further in the text looking for revealing signs.
  2. Eric Laflamme uses Facebook Groups to Stimulate Student Interest in Subject Matter in his Electricity and Magnetism class. He says each session a student gets caught publishing a pseudo science study. He then takes the opportunity to talk about fake news.
    • If you also plan on using Facebook in a pedagogical context, point out to the students that even Facebook provides Tips to Spot False News.
  3. “Astroturfing” is another issue that you can mention in passing. Raise awareness of the context in which some media content is produced.  Astroturfing is the practice of concealing the real authors (or sponsors) of a message in order to give the impression of a grassroots support for a product, service or political viewpoint (buying likes).

    In the article Media Literacy Challenges and Issues for 21st Century Schools, Andréanne Turgeon explains that the anonymity and citizen-based nature of some online platforms can create a sense of security and community for users. Students should be made aware of these potential traps.
  4. Arm your students. Provide them with a tip sheet.
    • Ralph Scapin of Dawson College provides a link (here) to several resources: infographics, tools and tips. Ask the students to use the tip sheet when they look up information online.
    • Simon Fraser University offers several quizzes students can take on their own to see if they can tell a legitimate story from a fake one just from a headline.
  5. Find out how truthful your source is. Tell your students about various fact-checking resources:
    • Snopes assessing the credibility of claims since 1994
    • Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter”
    • FactsCan Canada’s political, non-partisan fact-checker
    • AP FactCheck  by Associated Press journalists from around the globe
  6. Are your students living in an echo chamber? If they are getting their news from the blogosphere, Snapchat, Facebook, etc., they should be made aware of the fact that once they consume fake news cookies (even accidentally), they will end up with more. Algorithms will automatically feed them more fake news depending on where they surfed.
  7. Discuss the political leanings of some sources, even reputable ones. Consult media bias ratings:
    • On its “About” page Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC News), states that it is an independent online media outlet, dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.

      Media Bias Fact Check rates the political bias of news media. (Screen shot by the author)

    • All Sides shows multiple perspectives on a particular news story by placing opposing views side by side.

      All Sides presents 3 versions of the same story, from the right, from the center and from the left. (Screen shot by the author)

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.” (Attributed, wrongly, to Mark Twain)

Source: MediaSmarts

Give students more in depth look into the issue

Would you like to take some time to teach your students to be sceptical about what they find on the Web? Here are a few suggestions:

Final Thoughts

While discussing digital literacy, many teachers tend to focus on the skills needed to use the technology; however, our digital-native students probably acquired those skills on their parents’ tablets at the age of 3. Students are adept at creating and sharing content on social media. Unfortunately, they are not as proficient at discerning what information is reliable.

At the college level, teachers are in a unique position to help students develop a set of skills that they will use throughout their life, including the new basic skill in our society- the ability to determine what is reliable or not reliable.

8 comment(s)

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    Patti Kingsmill wrote April 3, 2019 at 10:44 AM

    Thank you for this informative and timely article! We have been working on a project at Vanier designed to help students develop their research, critical thinking, and media literacy (more broadly, we are looking at metaliteracy), using curation and social annotation. One resources we have very much appreciated is Mike Caulfield's Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, available online: https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/ We've also been collecting articles and tools related to curation and social annotation, but also to media literacy and metaliteracy, for our teachers. In case it could be of use to others, here is the URL: https://technoped.netboard.me/ocsa/

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    Susan Mac Neil wrote April 3, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    Patti, thank you so much for taking the time to share this very interesting info with us. I encourage teachers interested in furthering their research into web literacy to consult both of Patti's suggestions.

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    Anne-Frédérique Champoux wrote April 3, 2019 at 11:20 AM

    Thank you for this article. It provides cues to start important discussions with our students and links to valuable resources. I would just like to mention that, in navigating the sea of digital information, college librarians and library technicians are allies teachers and students can count on! Critically assessing information is one of our core skills and we offer thousands of information literacy sessions every year to teach students how to evaluate the quality and relevance of the information they find online. I think fostering partnerships between teachers and library staff on this issue would be beneficial to all.

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    Susan Mac Neil wrote April 4, 2019 at 12:25 PM

    Thank you Anne-Frédérique for your response to this article. I couldn’t agree more; librarians have a role to play. In fact, in order to make any real headway into helping students develop strong information and media literacy skills; librarians, faculty and administrators will have to work together. My objective in this text was to provide key takeaways and tips for adding media literacy to existing courses. To supplement this article, I would be really interested in learning more about the resources you suggest as well as any ideas on fostering partnerships between faculty and library staff.

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    Nicole Haché wrote April 3, 2019 at 11:29 AM

    While you provide an interesting list of resources to help teach students how to navigate the sea of digital information, you fail to mention the MOST important resource teachers have access to. A resource that is uniquely placed and that fully understand what is out on the web. That resource would be the librarians and technicians who work in the College network. They are uniquely qualified, have developed tools and programs to help students evaluate all resources. They are more than willing to partner with teachers to create tools and resources for specific courses and programs. The librarians and library technicians are the "WHO" that can help teachers navigate the sea of digital information.

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    Susan Mac Neil wrote April 4, 2019 at 12:37 PM

    Thank you Nicole for your response to this article. I agree with you that librarians and technicians have a role to play. In fact, librarians, faculty and administrators will have to work together to help students acquire these very important skills for the future. My objective in this text was to provide tips for adding media literacy to existing courses. To supplement this article, I would be really interested in learning more about the tools you suggest and the programs you have for students. Also, I think many teachers would like to hear more about partnering with librarians to create tools and resources for specific courses and programs.

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    Nicole Perreault wrote April 3, 2019 at 7:57 PM

    Hello Suzan, your article in very interesting. Could it be possible having a french version for teachers working in francophone cegeps ? Thanks in advance !

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    Susan Mac Neil wrote April 4, 2019 at 12:40 PM

    Thank you Nicole.

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