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“Moving” Toward Increased Web and Media Literacy

By David Quinn
 | Mar 02, 2018

ThinkstockPhotos-538202245_x300Recently there’s been a renewed emphasis on media literacy education, especially in the United States. This revival is critical as a 2017 Common Sense Media survey found that 40% of students said they preferred to get their news from social media. Sixty percent of those students cited Facebook or Twitter as their preferred source for news. This structure may be problematic as research suggests that students of all ages do not actively scrutinize the content that comes across their social media feeds.

Sponsored content is often mistaken for legitimate news while research-based infographics from advocacy organizations are taken at simply face value. Although newsfeeds may appear chronological or unbiased to students, they are actually the result of algorithms that are carefully designed to share what keeps people clicking, regardless of the quality or the accuracy of the source or content. Given the growth of access and interest in social media, students need heuristics to navigate the new media landscape.

In school contexts, educators will often provide students with tools like the WWWDOT Framework or the CRAAP test to aid them in their evaluation of web texts. However, these academic processes do not always transfer to informal learning contexts. Additionally, as Mike Caulfield, the inaugural civic fellow for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' American Democracy Project Digital Polarization Initiative, points out, research from the Stanford History Education Group suggests that applying these frameworks may not work as well as desired. In some instances, web designers have adjusted their layouts or web addresses to master these “tests.” In others, the conflicting answers to the extensive questions in these protocols results in an inability draw a definitive conclusion.

Given the negative consequences resulting from a poorly informed citizenry, we need alternative approaches that can help expedite the fact-checking process. Thankfully, Caulfield offers some practices to help mitigate these challenges which he calls “Four Moves and a Habit”:

  • Check for previous work: Often, trusted sites—including news sites or fact-checking sites like Politifact—have already investigated this claim and documented evidence. It’s important to note to students that they do not have to agree with the author’s conclusions, but at least they’ll get a better sense of the landscape.
  • Go upstream to the source: Many of the links on social media are secondary sources of information with an embedded link to the primary source. A good practice is to teach students to locate and read the original source before drawing any conclusions.
  • Read laterally: If the “upstream source” seems suspect, open one or several other browser tabs to conduct secondary searches to see what other sources say about the topic and the source providing the content. Caulfield suggests that the knowledge isn’t in one source, but rather in the collective network of sources.
  • Circle back: Sometimes reading laterally disproves the original source or provides conflicting information on the claims. In other instances, reading laterally can produce more questions than when you begin. If that’s the case, students should try to reframe the claim and circle back to start a new search based upon the new information.

Caulfield’s final piece of advice is to develop the habit of checking one's emotions. Web content that sparks a strong reaction is unlikely to receive much scrutiny as it either validates existing beliefs or causes us to automatically reject it. We’re also more likely to click and/or share these types of sources, which in turn causes them to appear on the news feeds of our connections. By helping students to pause when they read these types of headlines, we can lower the likelihood that they and others will become misinformed.

In addition to posting these four moves, Caulfield has a host of social media posts and thinking prompts for teachers and students to explore on his blog, Four Moves. His free e-book, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers provides further details on the moves. Regardless of whether educators use the links provided here or a different set of resources, it’s critical that we help students uncover strategies to enhance their media and information literacies for real-world contexts. The future of our democracy depends upon it.

David Quinn is the director of technology integration for the Mendon–Upton Regional School District in Massachusetts. You can connect with him on Twitter @EduQuinn.

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