Online Teaching Resources for Spotting Misleading Media
News on May 01 2020
Broadly speaking, American educators have three primary purposes: to provide students with professional skills to make them competitive in the workforce, to enrich the minds of students through a well-rounded education, and to engender the civic competencies needed for students to be educated voters and engaged citizens. Since at least the introduction of the “New Math” in the 1960s, workforce preparation has been the overwhelming focus of these three purposes. Workforce preparation is still vitally important, especially in our rapidly changing economy.
That being said, the past few years have demonstrated the importance of fostering civic competency in our students. The internet has become filled with incorrect and misleading information that many students, and adults, read and internalize as factual. Regardless of political affiliation, it can be agreed that in a healthy democracy, voters should be making their decisions from an informed position. Already there are teachers, administrators, and school media specialists leading the charge in teaching students how to be more critical of what they read. This is a momentous challenge that turns education on its head.
Whereas the central assumption of education was once that there is a scarcity of information that the teacher must impart to students, the new reality is that there is too much information, much of it incorrect or misleading, and students need to know how to filter it. To help in a small way, here are some great resources for developing these skills with students.
Common Sense Education
Perhaps the most robust resource, Common Sense Education provides lesson plans and handouts for K-12 that help students develop digital literacy skills. There are lesson plans on fake news, as well as other important issues like cyberbullying and protecting personal information online. To access everything this resource has to offer, a teacher or district would need to get a subscription. However, there are many free resources that are wonderful for getting started.
Idea Channel Fallacies Series
The PBS Idea Channel is a wonderful YouTube series for teaching. The host uses ideas from all over pop culture to explore, at times, highly sophisticated concepts. For example, explaining postmodernism through the show community, and how the Ms. Marvel comic reflects the importance of diversity in media.
What is most relevant here, though, is their YouTube series The Guide to Common Fallacies, which is linked above. Each video explores common fallacies used in media, business, and politics to persuade people on illogical grounds. For example, students can learn about the ad hominem fallacy, in which a person is attacked for something unrelated to their argument. For example, if a politician went after their opponent by saying they must not care about the poor because they are a cat person, and cats are not as warm as dogs. The videos are informative and entertaining. They’re also great to utilize when students are studying speeches or persuasive writing in history or language arts.
NY Times: Evaluating Sources in a “Post-Truth” World
This resource is updated by the New York Times every couple of years. It contains activities, resources, and ways of framing the importance of media literacy to students. It includes lessons on differentiating types of fake news, how and why fake news spreads, consider the impact of fake news on democracy, and how to “backtrack” an idea, where students try to discern how a particular bit of information reached them as a way of testing its validity.
These lessons could be part of a unit over the course of a year or incorporated into class in some way. For example, as a history teacher I used the example of the Spanish-American War as an example of how false or misleading media information can influence politicians and voters. I would then transition this historical episode into an examination of misinformation on the internet today. Another possibility would be science teachers explaining the steps taken to have work published in the scientific community, to show the amount of examination that a study needs to go through before it is deemed “truth.”
FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and PolitiFact
All three of these websites specialize in fact checking political or media falsehoods. Fact Check and PolitiFact are broadly focused on political issues, such as statements by politicians or political narratives in circulation. Snopes more directly tackles outright falsehoods, such as a story claiming that Pepsi was discontinuing Mountain Dew. As a teacher, I utilized all three of these websites when students came into class with what I suspected was incorrect information.
An exciting moment in my teaching career was after two or three times, students began organically approaching me to explore stories they had heard about or were exposed to, but they felt skeptical of. This was a great natural opportunity to model fact checking for my students. Teachers can also have students utilize these websites as part of larger research projects, and with the upcoming presidential elections there will likely be a lot of misinformation to work with.
The issues of fake news and digital literacy are not going away. As with many changes in society, educators are taking on the responsibility of preparing the next generation. Fully taking this on would require a fundamental overhaul of how classrooms work. Until then, hopefully these resources prove to be useful tools. To learn more about introducing contemporary issues and politics into the classroom, I strongly recommend using OTIS for educators, our online PD platform, which now has a video on how to discuss politics in the classroom while avoiding pitfalls.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our schools and learning, Teq is making all of our PD courses on OTIS for educators FREE to help schools and districts implement distance learning and online professional development.