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Avoiding “Fake News” in the Classroom

By Kip Glazer
 | Dec 15, 2016

shutterstock_244010971_300Late on the Friday before my school’s weeklong Thanksgiving break, a senior came by my office. He wanted to know why he received a D on his annotated bibliography assignment. After all, he had all five sources his teacher asked him to find. He was frustrated and wanted help.

Having been an English teacher for over a decade, I directed him to look at Google Scholar. We put his keyword food politics into the search bar. I explained to him that sources should be current, preferably within the last five years, and showed him how to reset the date range to 2011–2016. Then I explained to him that the best sources should be peer-reviewed journal articles with digital object identifiers (DOI)—kind of like a social security number for a reputable article. Then I pointed out the Google Scholar–tracked citation counts. I told him he should use books and then other credible websites sponsored by governmental or educational institutions, in that order, only if he couldn’t find any peer-reviewed journals for his topic. After my explanation, we looked at his paper together, and he said, “So one source like that book I picked would have gotten me a B, but using four random websites, I deserved to get a D.”

Moments like that gives me hope despite reading “Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds” published by The Wall Street Journal and many other news organizations. Citing the recent Stanford University study, many were alarmed by the fact that 82% of the middle school students “couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story on a website.” The study finding was not surprising to me because, having been concerned about this issue for a while, I have written posts about both digital literacy and digital footprint. The article also correctly pointed out how a lack of trained school librarians at many public schools had made the situation worse.

To continue to make matters worse, there are numerous fake news sites that deliberately mislead their readers. Recently NPR broadcasted a story on fake news sites, which revealed how numerous websites that appeared to be legitimate posted completely fabricated stories. One such story was shared over half a million times on Facebook. Although many social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google had announced their commitment to reduce the number of such postings using various computer algorithms, today’s media consumers need to be vigilant.

So what can we as teachers do to help our students?

  1. Discuss credibility of sources. As a public school teacher, my students have asked me about my political beliefs more than once. I often used that as an opportunity to teach my students about the credibility of the source. To make my point, I would ask my students to look up articles on medical research findings. I pointed out whether an article was posted on websites like the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or Harvard Medical School. Then I had students look for the articles posted on other websites. I also pointed out the tone of the language used in certain articles. Then I explained the difference between an opinion posted on BuzzFeed and The Washington Post by discussing the role of an editorial board and journalistic ethics. When a student brings up a topic, ask the following questions, “Where did you hear that?” “Who was the source?” “Do you think they are credible on the basis of their education, expertise, and experience?”

  2. Model productive research behaviors. I also shared how I conducted my own research for my publications. I introduced different digital tools such as Google Scholar and EBSCO and how I used my tools such as RefWorks and Paperpile to collect sources. I also encouraged my students to request help from a librarian in their own research. I often added a lesson on the difference between the manuscript requirement of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and that of the American Psychological Association (APA). I explained how the MLA valued the author whereas the APA valued the publication dates as indicated in the requirements of their respective Works Cited and Reference sections.

  3. Teach the explicit differences among the sources. I had my students think in terms of points or grade as to which source should get an A, B, C, D, or F. I had students evaluate different Works Cited pages and grade them before creating their own. By formalizing the evaluation process, I emphasized the importance of using credible sources.

  4. Require citations. Even when my students created a multimedia presentation such as a video or a slide presentation, I required my students to cite every source including any picture. Toward the end of the school year, all my students knew that they would not receive a passing grade without citations.

In a society where the number of views on a YouTube video or retweets on a Twitter feed becomes the standards for one’s credibility, we must do better to inform our students of which sources they should trust.

Kip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. She holds California Single Subject Teaching Credentials in Social Studies, English, Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. In 2014, she was named the Kern County Teacher of the Year. She earned her doctorate of education in learning technologies at Pepperdine University in October 2015. She has presented and keynoted at many state and national conferences on game-based learning and educational technologies. She has also consulted for Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning and the Kennedy Center ArtsEdge Program.

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