2. Students need to be able to identify tone and bias.
It is often hard for students to identify the tone of an article unless it is blatant. How can we break down bias and tone into recognizable components?
To give students rudimentary tools to identify bias, have a discussion about why authors choose certain words or highlight certain facts. Compare articles about the same subject from different news sources: What information is highlighted? What words are used to describe the same event? Does the article present both sides of an argument or just one?
To explore how biased news is created, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project suggests challenging students to write their own biased news story about an event they are studying. Start by having them list all the facts, and then have them select only certain facts they want to include or exclude to try to convince classmates of a particular idea.
3. Students need to learn to be skeptical of sources and develop tools to check them.
In a world where even the most respected newspapers are described as fake news, how do we help students know what sources count as reliable?
Start by having students catalogue where they currently get their news — Facebook? Twitter? Podcasts? Applying what they’ve learn about bias, students can begin to assess the perspective and the mission of the news sources they read. Are they reading independent journalism with original reporting, are they reading advocacy sites, or are they getting news from crowd-sourced “citizen reporting”? Talk with them about the standards and ethics of journalism. Together, gather a list of sources your class believes are reliable and keep the list easily accessible to students.
Use a checklist created by the News Literacy Project to help students evaluate sources and detect fake news.
4. Students need to understand how what they read online is targeted at them.
Many students don’t know that when they search online, complex algorithms determine the articles and ads they see. Few students understand how bots can make topics falsely appear to be important. When software shapes what we see, our students must be wary of whom to believe online, and they must work to read authors who don’t always confirm but rather push and stretch their beliefs.
Build students’ awareness through discussion of key concepts, mini research projects, and even by intentionally testing these technologies out. Here's one lesson on understanding online searches.
These are just the first steps; this work will need to be ongoing and integrated at all levels and across all subjects. Cultivating our students into thoughtful, discerning, and critical digital thinkers is one of the most important responsibilities educators now have.
Digital Literacy Resources for Teachers
- Test how well your students can judge the credibility of the information they see online by using Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning assessments.
- Search a growing collection of tools and information on the new Digital Literacy Resource Platform, from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.
- Read a new report from the Stanford researchers that explores how professional fact-checkers assess the validity of online content. A summary of the report describes how researchers found that the most effective fact-checkers tended to read laterally, meaning that they quickly scan a website and then open a series of related tabs in their browser to verify and add context from other sites. (By contrast, the researchers found, professional historians and college undergraduates tend to read vertically, meaning that they stayed within the page in question and read down to evaluate its credibility — and were more often manipulated or deceived.)
- Teaching Tolerance has an extensive Toolkit on Digital Literacy, with areas of focus that include identifying reliable sources, understanding online privacy, and constructively engaging in online communities. For each area, the toolkit offers lessons geared toward K–12 students.
- The News Literacy Project (NLP) has created an online platform, Checkology, with hours of virtual lessons covering everything from First Amendment issues to viral rumors to the role of algorithms in shaping the content you see. The NLP also created “10 Questions for Fake News Detection,” a checklist.
- In partnership with the NLP, Facing History and Ourselves has a mini curriculum on digital literacy and democracy, centering on events that followed the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.