Fake news has crept into the classroom, with more than a third of teachers now seeing false information found online – cited in their pupil’s work or classroom discussions. This disturbing trend shows that despite an increase in the use of educational technology, many students still lack the digital literacy needed to distinguish between fact and fiction.
The findings are supported by a House of Lords Report which recommends that “digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of a child’s education alongside reading, writing and mathematics and be resourced and taught accordingly”.
What can teachers do now to help students to recognise fake news?
While the internet offers huge advantages when it comes to accessing up-to-date information, far too often students take what they read at face value. So, first and foremost educators must raise awareness that not everything we see and read online is true.
44% of tweens and teens believe they can tell the difference between fake news and real stories. But more than 30% admitted to sharing a story online, only to find out it was wrong or inaccurate. Common Sense Media
Teachers should look to incorporate the following questions into a whole class lesson:
- What does fake news mean?
- When have you fallen for or shared fake news of some kind?
- Why does it matter if we can’t tell real news from fake news?
- Where do you get most of your news?
- Is it trustworthy (and how do you know)?
Next, study groups could be created to look at the issue of fake news and present back to the class. Each group should be assigned a particular topic to research. Context is key, and the best way to teach digital literacy is to figure out what that means to a particular discipline. For example, in chemistry and biology a group could be tasked with investigating the numerous claims that A “causes cancer” or how B is “the latest superfood”. Pupils could also look at the distinction between fake news and pseudoscience.
Identify red flags
There are common denominators that are intrinsic when creating a fake news story; some of which are easier to spot than others. Typical red flags include:
- Excessive punctuation and/or ALL CAPS in the headline or main message
- Promises to tell you something that the media or other authoritative groups don’t want you to know
- Articles that don’t support the headline
- An overly sensationalist tone
- News that shows a highly partisan bias
- Articles that read more like advertisements.
Teachers can provide pupils with links to real and fake sites and ask them to decide which one is more truthful and why. Teachers can also share real-life excerpts or videos, and using the ClassFlow poll functionality, get pupils to vote on what news they believe to be fake. Teachers should also encourage classroom discussion to find out why. Find out how to create a ClassFlow poll.
Encourage children to question
The most important skill a pupil can have when it comes to combating the rise of fake news is the ability to question. As such teachers should encourage pupils to:
- Question the source of all news. This includes checking the authors’ credentials, and the so-called facts. Pupils should look to verify information using multiple sources. Sites like FactCheck.org can be a great help in the fight against fake news, but first pupils will need to establish that such sites are themselves independent, impartial, and nonpartisan!
- Don’t automatically trust their friends and family. Even if the story comes from someone they trust, this doesn’t make it true. The person who shares fake news is rarely the source of the information.
- Don’t assume every picture is genuine. Consider a lesson where students look at why and how digital image editing is done, and the pros and cons of doing so in different contexts (e.g. as an artistic tool vs a news source). Students can alter their own images to present a story to the class and discuss the impact the digitally manipulated image has on how believable it is.
Be aware of bias
Most people who share fake news do so because the article they have read confirms their own beliefs. So, one way for pupils to test their own bias is to gauge their emotional reaction to a story, how it makes them feel, and whether they want it to be true.
Pupils could be tasked with finding a story that interests them and that they believe in (either on their own or in groups). They then have to find out what’s not true about it and create a new story that addresses these lies and their original bias.
Look at propaganda
Teachers can use tools such as Pinterest to share images of popular propaganda through history, and examine how it influenced opinions and world events. The class can then discuss how 20th century propaganda differs from today’s 24-hour news cycle and ever-expanding online world. Can they still recognise propaganda when it comes from channels such as Facebook and YouTube?
For example, a key source of fake stories online is the automated Twitter bots. These accounts use artificial intelligence to mimic tweets and pretend to be a real people. Very often they generate tweets that link to fake news and contain specific keywords. The spreading of such misinformation can be massively influential when it comes to swaying popular opinion, particularly during elections. Consider using ClassFlow polls to play “Bot or Not” in your classroom. Find out how to create a ClassFlow poll.
Teaching students how to thrive in our internet dominated world is now as important as reading and writing; with a digital literacy curriculum likely to be just around the corner. For now, it is up to the government, online providers, parents, and teachers to work together to support and protect pupils online. And give them the skills they need to thrive.