When Illinois high school students return to school this month, they will have new courses that lawmakers and Stanford researchers hope will prepare students to better detect misinformation and look for ulterior motives before to trust online news, social media and news sources.
In 2019, Stanford researchers showed more than 3,000 American high school students a grainy, anonymous Facebook video of people putting ballots in trash cans, then asked them to consider whether what they saw was “strong evidence of voter fraud in the United States. More than half of high school students said they believed it was, even though reputable news outlets had published stories explaining that the footage was actually shot in Russia. Three poor high school students have understood this.
In 2021, Illinois, which has about 600,000 high school students, became the first in the nation to require a media literacy teaching unit in its high school curriculum, and the law takes effect this school year. . In most schools, media lessons will be integrated into one or more existing lessons; Chicago public school students returning this week can expect units on navigating online media to be included in many of their classes.
The same Stanford researchers who conducted the 2019 survey also studied pilot instructional programs running across the state, including for 9th graders at Neuqua High School in Naperville, Illinois. school year, students showed statistically significant improvement in evaluating sources, according to Stanford researcher Joel Breakstone.
In a class taught in Neuqua, the biology teacher asked students to decide whether they should trust the foodinsight.org website for accurate information about caffeine consumption.
“Because it’s a ‘dot-org’ URL, students often think that means the site is more trustworthy,” Breakstone said. “But if you go away, open a new tab, and do that ‘side reading,’ you find out that foodinsight.org is actually backed by major beverage companies that have a vested interest in making caffeine seem trustworthy.”
The go-to strategy for checking online sources is what researchers call “side reading,” or traveling the web to sites like Wikipedia to learn more about the people who posted information you read online. .
Most high school students didn’t consider funding from online sources in Stanford’s 2019 survey: 96% didn’t think to query a climate change website that had industry ties fossil fuels.
Neuqua librarian Carrie Ory said good media literacy teaching involves unlearning certain rules by rote about how to conduct internet research.
“We actually recommend kids go to Wikipedia, which we used to keep kids away from in schools. But research from Stanford found that Wikipedia is a great place to find the source,” Ory says.
Another practice to help teens develop good media hygiene is to pause for an entire day before sharing or commenting on an upsetting story, in part to see if missing context or corrections arrive, suggests Yonty Friesem. , co-founder of Illinois Media Literacy. Coalition and one of the teachers who helps build educational tools for teachers.
Friesem didn’t hear many objections from parents or politicians worried about political bias in the instruction, though those arguments came when the state legislature was scrambling to get the law on the books. State Rep. Adam Niemerg protested at the time, saying the media unit requirement was “anti-Trump, anti-conservative.”
“That’s why we made sure to go public and explain that media literacy is about inquiry, not indoctrination,” said Friesem, who is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago.
Illinois is the national leader in media literacy, but at least 13 other states have made efforts to develop statewide policies on the topic, according to advocacy group Media Literacy Now.