If every word published and uttered in the media this year could be encapsulated into a giant Wordle, two words would be dominating all others—those words are Fake News.
Collins Dictionary announced that its word of the year for 2017 is, you guessed it, fake news! As defined by Collins, ‘fake news’ means “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. The word saw an unprecedented usage increase 365% since 2016 on the Collins site.
It is no wonder that when I sat down to consider my favorite digital literacy articles of 2017, I noticed a common thread. Three dealt with the very real reality of fake news. As a library media specialist and an educator, I am keenly aware of the need to build digital literacy into what I teach. I see this article as a retrospective of 2017 through the lens of digital literacy. Three of the articles center around the theme of fake news, the other deals with virtual anxiety. In addition to the articles, I also present a novel way of motivating students to get into the frame of mind for media appraisal.
by Michele Kirschenbaum / EasyBib.com
We educators need to keep in the know through professional development. In August, Library Media Specialist Michele Kirschenbaum (in-house librarian at EasyBib.com and author of articles on APA format, MLA format, what is a bibliography, and other articles) did just that by attending a News Literacy EdCamp sponsored by the News Literacy Project and Time Magazine. As a follow up, she wrote this great article that highlights key takeaways that are the most useful for use in the classroom or library.
For instance, in the article, Kirschenbaum discusses the differences between fake news, misinformation, and propaganda. The term ‘fake news’ is constantly misused, so this article provides easy to understand definitions of all three. She then talks about bias and neutrality in the media and presents ways students can take a step back from the article to consider the author’s point of view. The rest of the author’s takeaways deal with practical ways students can build their fake news detection and handling skills.
Learning by doing is a fantastic way to authenticate the learning process. Why not have students create their own fake news? My favorite takeaway in this article was about CloneZone. On the site, users can manipulate and edit any website’s text and upload his/her own visual content. The user can then create a URL and share the cloned page far and wide. First, this is totally scary. Second, what an amazing way for students to really question what they consume and internalize the sophistication for producing fake documents that have a ring of truth. Third, this is TOTALLY SCARY!
by Anya Kamenetz / NPR
Something that is barely discussed in teaching circles is the idea of intuition, and how we can develop students’ awareness when something just does not feel right. My next favorite article of 2017 is one from NPR that deals with learning to spot fake news by using a ‘gut check.’
The article talks about an educational initiative that will be introduced in 10 universities across the country whose goal is to teach students to classify “facts” they read as trustworthy or untrustworthy. Reporter Anya Kamenetz interviewed news literacy expert Mike Caulfield, director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University in Vancouver, about the project and his belief that we need a different approach to teaching digital literacy.
In the article, Caufield says that rather than focusing on close reading, students need to think like a ‘“fact checker,” who usually gets to the truth of an issue in 60 to 90 seconds. According to Caufield, fact-checkers read laterally, opening tabs on their screen to search and vet information presented in an article. This live-fact checking helps to produce a feeling of credibility or incredulity.
Aiding in this appraisal is a gut check. In the article, Caufield also argues that one of the most important weapons of fact-checking comes from our ‘lizard-brain.’ “When you feel strong emotion—happiness, anger, pride, vindication—and that emotion pushes you to share a ‘fact’ with others, STOP.” This is simple but powerful advice.
by Katherine Schulten and Amanda Christy Brown / The New York Times
My next favorite is not an article at all, but a fantastic lesson plan created by The New York Times. Suitable for middle school to high school and beyond, this lesson covers the evaluation of sources in a ‘post truth’ world. It provides thoughtful approaches to teaching and learning about fake news.
I particularly like how the lesson is broken down into different ‘problems,’ such as understanding different types of unreliable news, the effects of fake news on democracy, as well as a case study in how fake news spreads. The first problem, and the most important to me, is the question, why does this matter? This problem provides the framework for the rest of them. The resources provided in the lesson are well-curated and certainly useful for educators own knowledge or broadening the scope presented here.
by Olivia Sudjic / CNN
The next article is something of a departure from digital literacy for classroom purposes, but certainly worthy of note. The article appeared on CNN Style and tackles the disturbing new reality of life online and it is aptly titled Virtual Anxiety. The author is Olivia Sudjic, a London-based novelist and her debut novel Sympathy looks at the dangers of living our lives online.
Sudjic starts and ends the article by referring to Tim Berners-Lee, the English computer scientist and inventor of the World Wide Web. In her estimation, “The Internet promised transcendence of the physical, but has developed into a no man’s land where incomprehension, lack of ethics and insufficient regulation meet. This lawlessness at once part of its appeal and its central problem.”
I very much like how she points out that in the World Wide Web’s quest to personalize the information that we get, it has, in essence depersonalized us. When we look at ourselves through the lens that the web has created for us and about us, it is almost as if we are looking at a digital doppelganger. A representation of who we are based on our digital footprint. “My life feels as if it’s not mine at all. I feel like a voyeur pressing my face against the screen of someone else’s device, or looking down on myself from above.” Indeed, there is much in this article for both students and educators to ponder and reflect upon.
Thoughtful Activity: Hoax Websites
My last resource is not an article or a lesson, but instead a great way to build motivation and to provide a solid jumping off point for discussions surrounding satire and how fake news can be an art form.
Enter Joseph Reginella, an artist and sculptor from my hometown of Staten Island, and a dear friend’s husband. While on a day trip aboard the Staten Island Ferry with his nephew visiting from Florida, Reginella was inundated with questions. His nephew’s question, “Has the ferry ever sunk?” caused him to come up with the entirely fake but awesome story of a giant octopus taking over the ferry and pulling it down to its underwater lair, leaving no survivors. Told partially to tantalize the boy and partially to get a respite from the inquisition, an idea was born.
Starting with a large scale sculpture of the moment of cephalopodic doom, the idea took off into a documentary, a website and became something of an urban legend around here. I narrate the short film that was created to accompany the sculpture. The reaction to this hoax was widespread and positive as educators across the country delighted in how the site had a credible veneer that was clearly fake once you scratched the surface.
The site inspired Reginella to dream up another hoax news story, The Brooklyn Bridge Elephant Stampede, the “most horrific land mammal massacre in United States history.” The sites also “reason” that it is perfectly natural not to have heard about these two disasters as Reginella chose two historically significant dates (assassination of JFK and the Stock Market Crash, respectively) as a foil for their lack of coverage in the media. I provide the narration for this documentary as well.
I have actually used both of these documentaries and websites to test kids’ instincts about what is credible and what is not. In my experience, these resources opened discussions on classifying news and frameworks, as well as about how to properly appraise media. The websites and accompanying media certainly look very factual, are well produced, and provide inroads for students to think critically about what they read and see and compare it to the ‘yardstick of credulity’ I aim to teach.
[Note: The Ferry Octopus documentary contains profanity. The F-word is used by an actor at 1:28. It is “eye-witness testimony” of the event. If you pause, pick up again at 1:33.]
It is obvious with a world such as the one in which we live, our jobs as educators are more important than ever. In a time of post-truth and fake news, literacy and critical thinking skills have never had such significance. As we breathe, eat, and sleep, so must we read, appraise, and critically think. Here’s to 2018!
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