How Can We Help Our Students?

How Can We Help Our Students?

How Can We Help Our Students?
How Can We Help Our Students?

Teach Information or Media Literacy

Students today have never lived in a world without computers and cellphones. They have always been immersed in technology and bombarded with infor- mation. This is normal for them. They use technol- ogy easily and accept new technology readily. They are willing to experiment and are quick to discard anything that is not entertaining or that takes too long to complete. They live in a world of 3-D, virtual reality, and predictive searching. They have a pref- erence for visual rather than written material. They skim the surface of the information they receive, rather than doing a deep dive to thoroughly research a topic. They expect technology to work for them, at lightning speed, without the need for instruction or intervention.

Most people are confident that they know more than they do. Experiments conducted by David Dun- ning and Justin Kruger in 1999 showed that people who know relatively little about a subject are overcon- fident about their level of expertise in it.1 The “Dun- ning-Kruger effect” finds that students and others overestimate what they know, despite knowing that they lack experience or knowledge of the subject. Peo- ple in general tend to trust their social media friends, and students in particular tend to rely on social media for their information. The sources of information they trust are the ones their friends share with them. The expertise of the author, the possible bias of the pro- ducer, the geographic location of the creator, the facts that back up an assertion or claim, all take a back seat to the credibility of their friend network. This makes them particularly susceptible to manipulation. If they happen to have unknowingly friended a bot that feeds

them misinformation, they are likely to believe that information.

Helping individuals learn to be information- or media-literate is one of the single most important skills we can offer. It translates into the ability to understand, control, and apply information. In order to combat fake news, the first step should be to start teaching students early in their education. By the time students get to high school, which is typically the first place they encounter “information literacy” today, their learning habits are ingrained. We need to teach basic information literacy skills much earlier in life, and we need to repeat lessons throughout a student’s education.

Psychologically, the first thing we see or hear about a topic is what we remember as true. The more times we hear something repeated, the more likely it is that we will remember it, even if it is not true.2 To start students on the road to information or media lit- eracy, we need to start teaching those skills in ele- mentary school so that critical thinking and question- ing will become ingrained and habitual. We need to capitalize on children’s propensity to ask questions and encourage them to do so. We also need to help them learn how to find answers to their questions. A scaffolded curriculum of information literacy across the K–12 system would build a foundation that stu- dents could use to approach adult problems after graduation.

Students need guidance as they often lack life experience. Teaching students to seek out experts and to value those who have expertise in a subject will provide them with a key to avoiding fake news. With the democratization of access to information via the internet, it is easy to find information, but is it not

always easy to determine if that information came from an expert and trustworthy source.3 Students should understand that information coming from an expert source will be more reliable than information coming from an unknown source. Teachers should provide guidelines for students to use in identifying and selecting information supplied by experts.

As students reach high school, their tendency is to rely less on the expertise of their teachers and rely more on their friends. This is problematic in terms of fake news because many students get their news only from their social media newsfeed. Teens often share news they have received via social media because a headline or a picture, rather than the actual content of an article, has caught their attention. They are often unaware that they are receiving information from bots driven by algorithms based on the likes, shares, and clicks at their social media pages. They are often unaware that the information they see can be influ- enced by nonhuman actors. Students often do not seek out alternate sources of information, nor do they com- pare information to see how details might differ. We need to encourage them to do so and show them how. Technological interventions that are entertaining as well as instructive can help to get information across to teens.

Make Students Aware of Psychological Processes

Knowledge is power. When we are aware that we are psychologically programmed to believe information first and then reject it later if necessary, it becomes easier to insert skepticism into our analysis of news. This makes it easier to reject fake news if we can ini- tially accept that it might be fake news. It is easier to dismiss the initial misinformation if we know our brain has a tendency to hold onto it. Explaining the psychological tendencies that could cause students to believe fake news, and reminding them of those tendencies periodically, can give them a means of examining that news more critically. Making students aware of how their brains are working can improve their performance.4

In college, students are often psychologically ready for a fresh start or at least exhibit a willingness to con- sider new ideas. At this critical juncture, it is impor- tant to provide the reasoning and the instruction that will help them to apply their critical-thinking skills to their new environment. The freshman experience concerning information literacy can be very impor- tant, as it can, if successful, create the basis for the rest of their college work. It is important to introduce academically related information-literacy concepts and skills at a time when they can be applied immedi- ately to an assignment or problem. Skills concerning

fake news can be taught any time as fake news is a “hot topic” in the nonacademic world, and students will have the opportunity to apply what they learn immediately in their personal lives. Workshops, tuto- rials, YouTube videos, and games can be created based on the topic of fake news. The information-literacy skills conveyed in the exercises about fake news can be applied immediately, but can also be transferred to academic issues at the appropriate time.

Tie Information Literacy to Workplace Applications

Building a curriculum to serve college students is critical to producing the workforce practices employ- ers are looking for. It is critical to tie information literacy to the world outside academia and beyond college. Students need to know how important the information literacy skills are going to be to their future success in the working world.5 Most students will not have access to the research databases avail- able to them at the university level once they move into the working world. Students are usually familiar with common platforms such as Google and Facebook. Lessons involving Google and social media platforms can provide a focus for instruction using sources stu- dents might have available to them as workers and that they will certainly use in their everyday lives. Tips, shortcuts, and cautions can center on the issue of fake news, to make a class or workshop content rel- evant while teaching valuable skills.

The information literacy skills and concepts stu- dents are taught need to be offered in memorable ways, across the curriculum. Offer students instruction options in as many media as possible. Remember stu- dents today are visual people for the most part. They don’t read deeply, and they tend to reject anything that has no entertainment value. A YouTube video can have more impact than an in-class demonstration. A comic book about information literacy problem solv- ing can be more memorable than a checklist hand- out. Make sure the tools you make available are eas- ily accessible electronically. A problem-solving online game can be effective as well as entertaining. Having students create information literacy projects centered on issues they feel are important could offer them an opportunity for deeper understanding of the subject and provide valuable insight. Get input from students about what teaching tools they find most effective and compelling.

Collaborate with a film studies class, an art class, or a computer engineering class to address informa- tion literacy topics in new and interesting ways. Part- ner with other instructors as often as possible to allow students to get information literacy training in more than one setting, while they are learning another

subject. This will allow students to understand the applicability of information literacy to other subjects.

Have students work on hands-on exercises that demonstrate the need for care in selecting sources. In memory studies, it has been shown that people remember better if they have done something them- selves.6 Rather than telling or showing students how to find a source or check for factuality, plan instruc- tion so that the students do the work, guided by the teacher. Go the next step and have students apply what they learn in one setting to a problem in another set- ting. It has also been shown that students benefit from working in groups. Allowing instruction to take place in small groups with input as necessary from a roam- ing instructor will help students to learn from one another and to better remember what they learned.

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