Forget Fake News

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Let’s face it, fake news is really nothing new. The only thing that has changed is that it is getting more headlines due to its prominence surrounding the presidential election. In referencing this, I have to admit that I am hesitant to even mention fake news for fear that the conversation will quickly devolve into politically-based finger-pointing, but I think it is important to talk about this phenomenon and discuss what we are doing to educate our students in the area of reliable sources of information.
Getting into the habit of simply tossing a news story or blog post quickly into the category of fake news is not the recipe that will alleviate the problem.  There are a number of issues that we need to review before we come to the conclusion that a story is fake. One is that there is a stark difference between a story with an honest error and a story that is developed with the primary intent of misleading the reader. More important is the question about how we come to the conclusion that a story is not accurate. Are we going to take someone else’s word that a story is fake or are we capable of figuring it out for ourselves?  It is important that we avoid the categorization of news into one of two piles (fake and not-fake) and dig deeper.
The first step in increasing the depth of analysis on the topic of  on-line news sources.  We have a gaping knowledge deficit in this area that we need to quickly address. This is not simply a digital citizenship discussion, this is a citizenship discussion. If we are going to adequately prepare our students to be responsible and well-informed citizens then we need to reinforce the skills necessary to discern between reliable sources of information in all subjects. As long as this is left to one department in the school that teaches a lesson or two involving research, we will miss our target by a long shot. We need to help students find reliable sources for their health, their wealth, and whatever else they decide they would like to learn more about.
So let’s stop talking about fake news, an exercise that is likely to lead us down an inescapable rabbit hole, and start talking about reliable sources of information. For every topic where research is needed, let’s begin by having our  convince us why what they found should be deemed a reliable source.  I firmly believe that our students enjoy an authentic challenge and the only way that they will solve the complicated riddle regarding the reliability of sources of information is if we offer them our guidance.

More Thinking About Balance And When To Unplug

Having played a big part in the fact that there are over 1,000 students in Burlington walking around with web-enabled devices, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about how to continue the important conversation of maintaining balance with regards to the use these devices. I wrote a post on this a little while back in reference to my own device use, which I admit is sometimes imbalanced.

Adding to my anxiety on the topic is the fact that there are articles with misleading headlines like this one – Many Teens Tell Survey They Are Addicted To Social Media, Texting – which recently appeared in the Washington Post.  While the headline is a bit disconcerting, the content of the article makes it clear that this there is a lot more here that we need to discuss. Check out a few of the excerpts I think we need to focus more on and decide or yourself whether the negatives really outweighing the positive.

“Two-thirds of respondents said they text every day and half said they visit social networking sites daily. One-quarter of teens use at least two different types of social media a day.”

“Three out of 10 teens said social networks made them feel more outgoing, compared to 5 percent who said they felt more introverted.”

“Still, half of all respondents said real-life communication is the most fun and fruitful for their relationships. Only 4 percent prefer to talk on the phone.”

As I see my own tweens spending more and more time using their devices to interact with their friends, I can’t help but think of the quote below by Danah Boyd. Is it really the devices and the social media platforms that they are addicted to or is it the communication with their friends? 

It brings me back to Clay Shirky’s thoughts on this topic from his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity And Generosity In A Connected Age.  I agree with Shirky on the following:

 “when we talk about the effects of the web or text messages, it’s easy to make a milkshake mistake and focus on the tools themselves…But the use of of social technology is much less determined by the tool itself: when we use a network, the most important asset we get is access to one another.” 

I think the thing that our children need help with is learning when disconnecting is necessary to refocus and refresh. In addition, we need to be sure that they are getting plenty of technology-free opportunities for the rich face-to-face interactions and experiences that are so beneficial. This point is clearly articulated in a recent post by John Spencer titled What We’re Missing In Acceptable Use.

What we need to understand is that our children are connecting and collaborating in ways that we were never capable of.  Or as Shirky puts it:

“Although so much of what kids are doing online may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize…The old idea that media is a domain relatively separate from the ‘real world’ no longer applies…”

The bottom line here is that we are never going to be in a comfortable spot with our children if we do not continue to have discussions on this topic. We need to encourage our children to use these  resources wisely and have balance, but we also have to understand that the way they communicate with one another not going to look like the same as how we communicated with our friends back in the day…and that’s OK!

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