One of the 7 basic traits of the Avenor Learner Profile is to be Future Ready. In 2020, when schools closed, the abrupt transition to online learning required teachers, school leaders, students and parents to adapt quickly to a new, unknown and uncertain situation. It’s easy, once you get used to something, to have the feeling that you’re done, that the hard work is behind you and that it is over, you’ve adapted. The reality is that the new relationship we have with learning technology is still new and still requires continuous adaptation. And one of the most important skills we can train in the context of this relationship that is still evolving, is how we relate to the content we consume online. It is a lesson that we try to teach our students and, like any lesson, it is one that is important for us as adults, teachers and parents, to shape.
WHAT DO WE TELL TO OUR STUDENTS
First of all, we embrace technology as a good and useful thing and we encourage our students to use technology in the classroom – only through current use we may learn true digital fluency.. We use group projects as opportunities to discuss what fact checking means and how you can check the sources of information.
1. Cite your sources
Students learn to attach links to the information sources provided in any presentation. If you have found information on a site that does not cite its sources, you will probably need to go to step two and look for additional sources.
2. How many sources confirm what you found?
Students learn that before believing information, it is important to check if there are other sources that confirm it or if there are sources that disprove it. That’s why we encourage students to use a search engine and try to scroll beyond the first results, or even pages – the first sources are usually the most visited and how false news often spreads faster than real news, it is important to look at less accessed sources. But…
3. What is the quality of the sources that support the information?
You must also learn to decode possible alarm signals regarding the quality of the source. Now things get a little more difficult and the age and experience of the reader become more important. A first warning sign would be if the identified source uses correct language – is the article grammatically correct, is it professional or does it have obvious spelling mistakes?
4. How does it make me feel?
One question that we, adults and children, should learn to ask ourselves, even at an early age, is: “What emotion does this title / article / information cause me?” But an even better question is chow intense is the emotion that this title / / article provokes.. Behind any source that provokes a very strong emotion strong emotion is most likely an interest for the reader to share that information further.
Fear, anger and revolt are spreading fast in the online environment. The anti-vaccination discourse of recent years is a classic example of monetizing the audience’s fear and rage. Conspiracy theories appeal to the audience’s sense of revolt, which encourages them to feel cheated, fooled, used by a category of people who seek to take advantage of them. If a piece of information provokes a very strong sense of revolt, it does not necessarily mean that it is false, but it certainly means that it is worth investigating, following the steps above.
All these emotions – curiosity, fear, anger and revolt are active emotions, which produce a great need for action, encourage us to do something – for example, to click, to share.
What is important to understand is that ‘official’ or ‘reliable’ news sources often use the same mechanisms, precisely because they are very effective. That is why a more rigorous Media Studies education is vital.
5. What’s the purpose of the product I consume?
At Avenor College, beginning with grade 9, students can choose to study Media Studies, a course dedicated to the analysis of media products, with a strong focus on digital media.
“At Media we study in detail several types of media, including news, online and social media, advertising and marketing. We analyse who creates the product – the advertisement, the news, the social media page – and for what purpose. Creating a media product is a process of selection and omission. An online news story does not reflect the reality of the situation, but rather a constructed version of this reality. And media students learn to recognize how the media manipulates their audiences to achieve the goals of the producers and the companies that own them. In this way, we teach students to recognize misinformation, bias and fake news, a set of skills that are absolutely essential in our digital society.” says Katie Hargreaves, a British professor of Media Studies at Avenor College.
When analysing newspapers, high school students study two products in parallel – a left-leaning British daily newspaper and a right-wing British tabloid. Students analyse how the political orientation of the management of the company that owns the newspaper influences the language used in the articles. The influence is not limited to language, it extends to the selection of photos, the colours used and even the font. Each element of a media product conveys meaning to the audience, in order to attract their attention and ensure that readers return to their main source of information.
While the Media Studies course is quite advanced, it offers an important lesson that we can apply both in the discussions with our children and in the way we consume media products, a lesson about…
6. The importance of tolerance for opinions other than my own
There is a lot of talk these days about how search engine algorithms create ideological bubbles – about how the suggested content is the content that we already agree with. Just as Media students look at two different products to understand what they have in common, we can encourage our students and children to always seek different opinions from their own. It may seem counterintuitive to intentionally seek different opinions from our own, but this is by far the most powerful tool in combating fake news. Developing tolerance for opinions other than our own makes us immune to the monetization of negative emotions that misinformation relies on.
7. Let’s take it step by step…
From all the information above, it turns out that a digital fluent person is a very busy person. For this person, simply reading a news article involves at least three jobs – researcher, looking for other sources; fact checker, verifying the validity of the sources; analyst and evaluator, analysing the source language and, with an advanced understanding of the political and business interests behind it, performs an analysis of the content. None of these jobs are easy, and I think we have to admit that even for adults, fulfilling all of these roles can be tiring. The most important thing, especially when working with children, is to remind them to take it step by step. And the first step is to become aware of the effect that the media has on us. Certainties and truth are hard to come by nowadays, but the ability to consciously consume content is certainly one of the most valuable skills of a truly Future Ready person.
Smaranda Nicolau, Teacher of Drama and Media Studies at Avenor College, wrote this informative material for Spotmedia where she tells what do we teach our students about media consumption and especially about fake news. The full material can be read HERE.