We live in a digital age with more opportunity than ever. We have online identities and communities that follow us through our lives, creating life-long digital footprints. For a lot of people, there is less done offline than online, especially with social media. So if we are now living in a society that spends most of their time, communication, and resources online, then as educators, isn’t it our role to be teaching students how to navigate this complex, digital world? According to Mary Beth Hertz, author of “Digital Media and Literacy in the Age of the Internet”, it’s crucial that we “challenge their critical thinking and research skills, and to spark discussions about their own experiences consuming media.”
I had the privilege of listening to Mary Beth speak last week during an online class. She shared the importance of teaching students how to think critically when using social media or taking in news online. However, like she says in her book, teachers are “often unprepared for the complexities of these challenges or might not be sure how to engage their students safely or responsibly.” As educators, it’s important that we teach students how to use the tools and online platforms instead of taking them away. If we take away the digital tools, rather than strategically and authentically use them in our classrooms and lessons, then we are not preparing them for the world they are a part of. We need to raise “digital leaders” in a digital age who feel equipped to use “the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others”, like George Couros says.
Fortunately, Mary Beth gave some practical examples for educators when teaching students strategies for sifting through information online. If you want to learn more about the following topics, as well as lessons surrounding privacy concerns, copyright laws, social media, and strategies for sourcing information, she goes into more detail in her latest book, which she talks about on the Safer Social Media podcast. After hearing her speak last week, here are some strategies that stood out to me that would be beneficial for educators to be aware of in the classroom:
Taking Note of the Digital Exposure and Experience in the Lives of our Students
Each student will come into your classroom with different stages of digital experience, knowledge, or exposure. It’s important to understand Digital Equity. According to ISTE, it’s “about making sure students have equal access to technology like devices, software and the internet, and that they have trained educators to help them navigate those tools.” Mary Beth talked about how our younger generation is learning about technology in different forms, and how this affects their experience in the classroom. She referred to an article, that defines 3 groups of young people and their relationship with technology. According to the article, students fall into these 3 categories:
- Digital Orphans: they “have grown up with a great deal of tech access — but very little guidance”, which causes them to shy away from face-to-face interaction and they usually lack valuable social skills.
- Digital Exiles: “they’ve been raised with minimal technology” because “their parents’ goal has been to limit their children’s access in order to delay their entry into the digital world until their teens.” This usually causes conflict because “they may struggle with finding a balanced approach to technology.”
- Digital Heirs: these students “have impressive tech skills, thanks largely to their parents and teachers.” However, even though they have experience and knowledge, this could cause them to “face challenges in dealing with their less knowledgeable peers so they’ll need a little charm and flexibility to get along.”
I would argue that another sub category falls into Digital Exiles- low income students who don’t have access to technology in their homes. This is important to recognize among these groups because as teachers, we need to be aware of how much technology our students have access to. If you want to learn more about the Digital Divide, Common Sense Media put out a fact sheet about “Exploring the Digital Divide.”
All of these categories are important to understand because each student will have a different level of knowledge when using online tools and social media platforms. If we as teachers are aware that they all come from different backgrounds, then we can meet them where they are at and teach them how to move forward as digital leaders.
Another important skill that we need to teach our students is understanding and recognizing biases. In Mary Beth’s presentation, she said “if it makes you feel some type of way, it has a bias. If you feel emotion or if you feel like the author is trying to influence the way you feel- it has a bias.”
Using websites like All Sides, a site that claims to give news articles from each perspective, helps students stay away from media bias. It’s not about teaching students right or wrong, it’s about giving them the skills they need in order to make an informed decision for themselves.
It’s also important that students know how to “fact check” information. However, in order for students to know how to do that, they need to be critical thinkers. In Laurie’s blog post, she reminds us of the “importance we have as educators and parents to teach our students how to be critical thinkers.” Mary Beth talked about the skill of critical thinking by “Reading Laterally”– “looking at what other sites and resources say about the source at which they are looking.” Sarah Ross says that “in this day and age in order to be media literate we need to be aware of the content we are consuming and whether or not it is reliable.” Sarah brings up some valuable questions we can ask ourselves, and ask our students, when we look up information or resources:
- “Do I check multiple sources when searching for answers online? Or do I click the top results and blindly trust them based on popularity?”
- “When I see news articles on my social media do I habitually click and trust their stance or sources?”
- “Am I quick to trust the sites of articles sent to me by trusted people rather then checking the source for myself?”
Along with these great discussion starters, there are a lot of resources that you can bring into your classroom to teach students about checking the source. Common Sense Education has practical lessons, such as “Hoaxes and Fakes”, which help students “avoid being fooled by fake videos and other information online.” There are other fact-checking sites that you can teach students to use, which can be found on PressBooks.
Another great tool that Mary Beth talked about in her presentation, as well as in her blog post “Teaching Kids How to Validate Information on Social Media”, is a reverse image search. Fact-checking words or information is easy with the use of Google, but what do you do when you have an image? You can follow these simple steps!
It’s important that students know how to use critical thinking strategies to check their sources and information when they use social media, see pictures, or watch videos online. Mary Beth reminds us that “We need to include analysis of social media posts, and tips and tricks for validating information on social media just as we do for traditional websites.“
Student Leaders in a Digital Age
There’s no doubt about it- we need to teach our students how to be digitally literate, just as much as other forms of literacy. Mary Beth’s presentation not only taught me important strategies and skills to do so, but also inspired me to bring these strategies into my classroom.
Are you ready to lead your students into the journey of digital literacy and digital media? Do you have positive strategies or success stories from your classroom experience?
Let’s do the important work of teaching students to be critical thinkers, technology experts, and digital leaders- together.