A few days ago at the public library, I overheard two teachers talking excitedly about a curriculum unit that they were developing. As the discussion progressed, they also began noting their frustration with the cavalier attitudes students demonstrate toward online resources. I was not surprised by the conversation.
Young people who are growing up today seem to navigate effortlessly through digital materials—learning resources, games, publications, websites, and apps—but we adults often forget their limited fluency when it comes to identifying the quality, reliability, and credibility of information. If they are to become good evaluators kids need lots of practice and plenty of time spent observing adult models.
As the educators continued talking, I thought about two 21st Century learning vocabulary words—evaluation and credibility—and mulled over how we get young people, in an age of unlimited content and information, to develop stronger habits of evaluation.
It was not the type of conversation that I could join, even though the three of us shared a library reading table. If I had entered the discussion, I would have asked the two educators how often they use a digital resource in class and whether they take a few moments to make observations and evaluative comments about the materials. They might ask questions like “How does it look?” or “Does it look authoritative?” Another question might be “Who made this?” and there are countless other questions to ask.
I would have told the educators at my table that making a habit of commenting on digital materials, as often as possible, models habits of evaluation for kids. In my imagination I’d have gone on to say that the quickest and surest way to help young learners consider credibility and apply habits of evaluation is for them to see adults, teachers and parents, evaluating the digital resources over and over.
A few years back, I tried this with my students. Each time I opened a website, I commented about some aspect of the site. Occasionally I asked them to jot down two observations about the website that I was using. (Note to Amazon, Google, and various other sites and apps—these kids had some terrific ideas that would dramatically improve your sites.)
In 2010 Andrew J, Flannagan and Miriam J. Metzler wrote Kids and Credibility, a book that examined how children decide the credibility of the almost unlimited amount of digital information at their fingertips. The authors shared data from a survey of more than 2,700 children between the ages of 11 and 16, finding that most of the children surveyed consistently overrated their skills in evaluating and discerning the credibility of information online. It is one of the books that I list on this blog’s good reads page.
In our connected world, we spend a great deal of time observing how effortlessly young people use technology, but we often forget that access and ease of use do not by themselves determine how well a student recognizes the value and importance of information (or lack thereof).
Parents and teachers, even when they feel less adept a using digital materials, have a responsibility—and, yes, even the skill—to model habits of evaluation and ask young people to do the same.