The Educator’s Solution To “Fake News”
Can we still trust the News with Fake News on the rise?
People used to trust their news providers. We would read the news with the implied understanding that it was published by a reputable team that checks facts and operates with journalistic integrity. ‘Opinion’ and ‘News’ were two separate categories, and for a good reason. Those kinds of journalists are (of course) still working hard every day to inform the public as honestly as possible. BUT, we no longer have the luxury of assuming that the information we read or watch is trustworthy by default.
What is Fake News?
A lot of people are talking about fake news these days. In short, fake news can be understood as deliberately misleading or downright incorrect information. Often, it is created and distributed with ulterior motives. Spinning the truth for political gain is a tactic as old as the printing press. It’s called propaganda. Fake News is the latest popular name for this phenomenon. Spinning the news for financial gain often means fabricating or stretching the truth so that more people will want to read the information, generating more views and increasing ad revenue. Today we call it “click bait”. It’s important to note that these two motives aren’t mutually exclusive, either.
Where did it come from?
The term Fake News appears to have started in response to the alarming amount of misinformation being shared through social media (Facebook, in particular) leading up to the US Presidential Election. It became common in public discourse in November. Donald Trump, for example, often uses the term to criticize news sources that he believes to be spreading lies, rumours and the like. Check out this chart for Google searches related to Fake News over the past year.
Why is it a problem?
People don’t always take the time to think critically about the information that is presented to them. If they internalize incorrect information as fact (or worse, share it) then the ‘truth’ becomes increasingly subjective. Hence the emergence of the term “post-truth”. An uninformed public is dangerous, but an ill-informed public — the kind that Fake News creates — is toxic to democracy.
We’re not training young people how to properly evaluate what they read and see online. Researchers at Stanford recently shed some light on this problem in their paper Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.
Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.
What are we doing about it at Parlay?
Our educational experience in high school through to the end of university lays the foundation for our independent intellectual lives. At school, students develop many of the habits and standards that they will take with them into the world. That’s why it’s imperative for our education system to pour more energy into teaching students how to think and speak with integrity. Here are four ways teachers can use Parlay to help strengthen their students’ ability to identify and avoid Fake News and its temptations.
1. Talk about Fake News.
This one is straightforward. Start a dialogue with students. Parlay is a discussion-based learning tool that is designed to help teachers facilitate meaningful discussions of all kinds with their students. Teachers can use our discussion modules to have conversations with their students about Fake News, journalistic integrity and the changing role of the media in the 21st Century. The more we talk openly about these ideas, the more they will remain top of mind and the more willing we will be — as a society — to address them.
2. Create an Open Classroom Environment.
We created the Student ‘Textbook’, and other classroom discussion guides for teachers to share with their students. We strongly encourage teachers to explore different ways to incorporate resources that will help support creating a classroom environment that is welcoming and open so that all students feel free to share their ideas.
3. Reward Critical Thinking.
At the centre of the Fake News phenomenon is a clear lack of critical thinking on the part of the consumer, AND a waning commitment towards using credible evidence on the part of news outlets. We decided to tackle this problem at the ground level. You can use a points system. In Parlay we created an assessment section to help teachers encourage and reward students for asking difficult questions, supporting their ideas with evidence, and challenging their peers in a respectful manner. If we can explicitly teach students to be committed to this kind of thinking, then we can better prepare them to become thoughtful members of society.
4. Encourage Independent Expression.
Finally, and most subtly, you may have noticed that I have capitalized “Fake News” into a proper noun throughout this piece. This was on purpose. Terms like Fake News have a tendency to burst into the collective consciousness in times of uncertainty. The problem is that this term is vague, full of assumptions, and interpreted differently by everyone. Moreover, because of its newness, it can be defined by those with the biggest microphone. It is so important to resist the temptation to use catch-all expressions as a substitute for thinking and expressing ourselves independently. Parlay was designed with this idea in mind. Think first, speak second, and do so in your own voice.
So why are we doing this?
Our mission is simple — to inspire meaningful discussions in classrooms around the world. In some sense, our civilization is at a crossroads. We must teach the next generation to choose curiosity over certainty, and conversation over complacency. If and when we succeed, Fake News doesn’t stand a chance.
To learn more about how Parlay supports student discussions click the link.