Again, the rubric scored students at three levels, and mastery asked students to understand that the poll might be useful because it was conducted by a professional polling firm, but that it might not be useful because of the political leanings of the organizations writing the press release and the tweet. Students were directed to include all their sources in their answers, which prompted them to do more research about the tweet and its content.
More than half of the students did not click on the link included in the tweet or do any other research. Less than a third of students explained the political leanings as a reason why the tweet might not be useful. Rather than focusing on the content of this particular tweet, the majority of students made generalized comments about the dangers of social media.
What do we do?
In beginning their report, the researchers sounded despairing as they used the word “bleak” to describe students’ digital literacy skills. But they quickly shifted the focus to the next steps. Their next steps take us back to our two questions about incorporating digital literacy and technology in the classroom: First, how can we help students understand the information that they are consuming and train them to become critical consumers? And second, how can we help them to become contributors to the global society created by technology?
First, the researchers discuss how important it is to be aware of the shortcomings in digital literacy. Often we make the assumption that because students are early adopters of new technology, they are adept at evaluating the content they find. Studies, like this one by the Stanford History Education Group and the one by MediaSmarts presented in our previous blog Addressing Digital Literacy Skills for Students, show that students lack the skills to evaluate the content they are finding. Awareness allows us to take the first step to addressing the problem.
The researchers then suggest that their assessments can be used to direct lesson planning. For example, the assessment shows that middle school students don’t understand sponsored content, and that information could be used in a lesson. After learning the keywords –sponsored content, native advertising, and content marketing — students could be asked to evaluate a variety of articles. They could even be pushed to evaluate articles that have had the sponsored content designator removed.
Finally, the researchers stress the importance of incorporating digital literacy training into the curriculum. When we incorporate digital literacy into the curriculum, we can have more focused and dedicated attention given to building those skills. Attention can be given to helping teachers through professional development and team-sharing. Attention can also be given to having class time dedicated to building digital literacy skills.
As teachers, we can first decide which of the digital literacy skills tested in these assessments is most important for our individual students. After we decide that initial skill, we can begin designing lessons that teach that skill. As students increase their training, they will be able to effectively evaluate any source they are presented with, whether through the classroom or in their own personal technology use.