How do we help children identify and understand information that is not credible?
Election seasons provide some of the best opportunities to teach 21st Century young people about credibility — in school, at home, online and off. As we go about electing new leaders, we see and hear candidates stating all sorts of claims, assertions, rumors, and postulations. Some are true, others slightly true, some absurdly false, but all come via various media, social and otherwise, though not always online.
Use the months before an election to encourage young people, and your child especially, to think about credibility. Focus on the ways that the media share information and on how to discover whether facts are true or not true.
A useful resource for adults to read is Professor Howard Rheingold’s book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online. This author talks about the various literacies that children and adults need if they are to become savvy users of connected world resources. One literacy Rheingold describes is “crap detection,” the ability to spot or identify fraudulent or bogus digital information. In a 2012 blog post I shared Professor Rheingold’s short video lesson.
Another good resource that can help adults develop more knowledge about children and information credibility is a book by Andrew J. Flanagin and Miriam J. Metzler. In Kids and Credibility, the two authors describe their study of more than 2,000 children, asking kids to find, identify reliability, and make judgments about online content. Flanagan and Metzger found that children, even those with strong digital skills, were not especially adept at figuring out whether or not information was credible. I reviewed this book in 2011, and it is just as relevant today.
The Annenberg Classroom website features a comprehensive lesson, The Credibility Challenge, which offers educators an excellent outline for developing lessons on credibility, though some of the website suggestions are dated. Librarian and educator Kathy Schlock offer all sorts of materials, all easily downloadable, including a handout, The Five W’s of Website Evaluation. My post, Building Habits of Evaluation into the Curriculum and the Conversation, offers additional information as evaluation and credibility skills go hand-in-hand.
Fact-checking websites are invaluable teaching tools, and parents and schools should ensure that children know how to use them. Factcheck.org, sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, gives users the opportunity to check on political statements that candidates state as facts. It aims to call out intentional deception in U.S. politics. Snopes.com provides help for people who want to find out if a story, possible hoax, or urban legend is true, and the site also allows people to submit a rumor to be researched. The Pulitzer Prize winning site, PoiltiFact, has a ratings system, the Politifact Truth-O-Meter, that gives “pants on fire” ratings. Marketplace.org offers this list of fact-checking websites.
In schools educators must see to it that credibility skills are developed as a part of other studies — the lessons, concentrating especially on digital material that students use, should be taught and reviewed over and over as a part of history, English, science, and other classes. Young people need to understand how to decide whether information is credible, but they also need to have lots of practice applying their lessons.
A great thing about the connected world is how much information is at our fingertips; a not-so-great thing about the digital world is how much misinformation is at our fingertips. The good and the bad are juxtaposed, so we must commit ourselves to ensuring that children develop the digital life literacy skills to detect when information lacks merit.