It happens to me all the time on social media. I see something interesting that connects with what I like or want to believe, start to read it, and then I immediately start to share it with my friends. I’m learning, however, to think more about it first. Now I’m spending more time considering whether what I see and read comes from a reputable news source or if some of the details in the article can survive a fact check.
A friend’s Halloween yard display — to-the-point about the 21st Century challenges and concerns that we face as so many people live so much of their lives on social media. I hope that future Halloween holidays can be celebrated with at least some of these problems improved.
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.
Several weeks ago I wrote Why Wikipedia: The Questions that Parents Keep Asking, published over at the Platform for Good blog. I wrote about the challenges that adults face when children use the giant online encyclopedia, the activities that are occurring to make Wikipediabetter, and the concerns that adults have with sourcing. Now I share a situation that illustrates Wikipedia at its best — an example that the parents of digital kids may want to point out to their children.
The New York Time recently published Wikipedia Emerges as Trusted Internet Source for Ebola Information, an October 26, 2014 article which describes the steps that medical professional are taking to edit and vet Ebola information on Wikipedia. Written by Noam Cohen, the Times’s piece says that Wikipedia’s Ebola article had more than 17 millions views last month and profiles some of the medical professionals who are writing and editing the information about this terrible epidemic.
When a super storm event like Hurricane Sandy occurs, digital kids and their families get a good, and sometimes sobering opportunity to learn a lot more about the work of journalists — professional and citizen — as well as first responders. Much suffering, as well as amazing feats of service to others, occur during these events, so it’s important to view and consume the most authentic of resources available.
Lots of Hurricane Sandy coverage can be found in newspapers, blogs, and other social media, offering us opportunities learn together as families — as we share the content about the storm, the terrible damage it caused, and the ways that people responded. Children and adults will also use these resources in the coming days to figure out how to help, and in the process we all strengthen our media literacy skills (important in today’s world) by identifying the best and most reliable sources of information.
The other day I discovered an amazing blog as I searched for coverage of the storm and its effects on Ocean Grove, New Jersey (where I spent many happy summers as a child). Run by Paul Goldfinger and colleagues, Blogfinger.net offers me on-the-scene hurricane reports from the little beach town, so dear to me and my family, and now without its own newspaper.
Blogfinger — I discovered it thanks to my cousin, also know as Sandy — turned out to be a terrific resource. It has solid information, great pictures, and well-written narrative. The picture to the right, shows the damage to the Great Auditorium, a structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a place where I’ve attended dozens of worship services and concerts. You can check out many other Ocean Grove photographs at the Blogfinger site.
The next time you watch your child begin a web search for a school project or other academic activity, take a few minutes to observe more closely how he or she selects web resources. In Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content (this abstract site leads to a free PDF of the article), professor Eszter Hargittai and colleagues form the Web Use Projectat Northwestern University, describe how students tend to place huge amounts of trust in the initial hits retrieved by search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
With first year students in a required writing course at the University of Illinois Chicago (chosen because of its highly diverse student body) researchers conducted a written survey of 1060 students enrolled in the classes. Next researchers selected a stratified random sample of 192 students to observe in person as each student performed 12 specific web-based tasks. Learn more about a stratified random sample.
To complete a web-based task, students usually went to a search engine.
After search engines presented links, students tended to follow the first few links, apparently assuming that the first links in a search were reliable resources to pursue.
When they looked at a list of provided links, some had difficulty knowing the difference between regular links and sponsored links.
As they followed these links, students did not appear concerned about who authored the sites that they found (only 10 percent of the students commented about a site’s authors or the credentials presented).
To complete tasks students relied on brand names, and corporate brands dominated.
SparkNotes, an online version of Cliff Notes, dominated.
For credible sources many students favored .gov and .edu sites as more credible sites.
Many expressed trust in .org, because they are all not-for-profit sites, although these days just about anyone can get a .org web address.
To verify information, less than half of the observed students consulted a second website.
How can one determine whether or not a website is reliable?
Obviously if the website is part of library resources, students and parents can usually be assured of its quality. However, when a child sits down at a personal home computer, makes a general search on a topic for a school assignment, and begins clicking through results, understanding the characteristics that make a website reliable is critical.
Questions to Help Parents and Children Determine if a Website is Reliable …
Is the site visually interesting with an organized layout?
Does it balance writing with helpful illustrations?
Is the writer qualified to be writing on the subject? How do you know?
Can you identify facts and information about your topic that you already know are accurate
Are the fonts simple, easy to read, and uncluttered?
Is the site updated on a regular basis? How do you know?
Are there irritating pop-ups and/or other distractions. (However be aware that newspapers do have these pop-up windows.)
More Questions to Help Parents and Children Determine if a Website is Reliable …