Fake News, Confirmation Bias and Selective Attention: Teaching Digital...

Digital Learning in Higher Ed

Fake News, Confirmation Bias and Selective Attention: Teaching Digital Literacy #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Sep 13, 2018

Fake News, Confirmation Bias and Selective Attention: Teaching Digital Literacy #DLNchat

How do educators support digital citizenship? Does information need singular meaning to be useful? Has cognitive dissonance grown in the digital era? These were a few of the questions tweeted at #DLNchat on Tuesday, September 11, when we debated how to best teach digital and information literacy in higher education.

What is digital literacy and how is it different from information literacy? #DLNchat-ters agreed that the two are closely intertwined. Both include the ability to critically assess digital content as information, but digital literacy includes many other skills as well. As Andrea Fuentes said, “Digital literacy includes digital citizenship, understanding digital platforms, and digital etiquette.” Paul Wilson put it a bit differently: “Information literacy is broad based and may include digital, print and non-print content. Digital literacy is both the ability to utilize digital and web based resources and the ability to communicate online using digital platforms.” Much of the conversation focused on how to support students in assessing digital content for validity and veracity.

Truth is… complicated, if you ask the #DLNchat community. Yin Wah Kreher may have articulated it most poetically with this quote from Anaïs Nin: “We see the world as we are, not as it is.” Fuentes put it another way: “People filter the information through the lens of their past experiences; they reject contradictions to existing beliefs.” There can be a bit of cognitive dissonance when taking in new information. Social media and other digital platforms also make it easier to avoid information that doesn’t fit neatly into our existing narratives. “It is much easier to avoid unpleasant information in the digital era,” said Richard Hornik. “More worrisome is that the algorithms of all the major platforms reinforce our confirmation bias so that we will stick around.”

This is exactly why teaching digital and information literacy is so important! “We contextualize based on experience so, as educators, we need to help our students ‘see’ different contexts & perspectives,” said Emma Zone. In other words, information is subjective. But, Evan Smith asked, "Is it the same information if interpreted differently? In any case, interpretations can be subjective, idiosyncratic, cultural." Wilson posed similar questions: “Does a text need a singular meaning? Or does a society need a singular meaning for its use and affirmation?” #DLNchat-ters debated the point. Gina Sipley argued, “Every text is open to multiple meanings, and those meanings shift over space and time.” Not so fast, Hornik countered, “an observation is subjective, but the facts—the temperature, the sky—are not. The problem today is that skepticism has permitted people to deny facts they don't like.”

So then, is it more important to approach information with trust in established media rather than skepticism of all media? “In the last year I have decided to put more faith in the established media,” shared Jane Lally, describing it as the lesser of two dangers. Sipley agreed with that sentiment and emphasized the importance of an independent media. “The problem with too much skepticism in all forms of media is that it undermines the democratic process. The 4th Estate is a necessary check on democracy,” she tweeted. However, even information from the most trusted media should be evaluated with a critical gaze. “There’s a difference in blind trust and paranoia, which are the extremes we want to avoid. We should always balance trusting the source with skepticism,” said Alan Kinsey.

#DLNchat-ters shared strategies for students when assessing the reliability of a media source as well as the veracity of its claims. Dorrie Cooper recommended these questions: “What serves as evidence? Critically ask does the nature of the claim appear to be a fact or opinion? Do they provide resources that are researchable? Can you find the primary research from their assertion?” Approaches described in a study from the Stanford History Education Group were referenced several times. The report says that to assess claims made online, reading laterally (where you seek context and perspective from other sites) is more effective than reading vertically (which involves deeply investigating the reliability of the source). Spencer Johnson also advised adopting more consciousness while scrolling. “The problem is that we will look at who shared the source, how many likes/comments, ignore how the information may be playing to their biases, and/or not understanding the content,” he tweeted.

It seems the most important digital literacy strategy may be simply slowing down. “We need to read thoroughly through an entire piece before sharing and amplifying a message,” shared Sipley. Added Hornik, “We can't slow down the flow of information, but we can slow ourselves down and we can encourage the people around us to do likewise.” This can be particularly important when analyzing images and videos. As EdSurge’s Renee Franzwa said, “Data visualization is so much more compelling to someone skimming content (which is everyone!) which is why this kind of literacy training is so important.”

Not only is imagery more compelling, #DLNchat-ters agreed, it’s more complicated. “Too often an image or a video accompanying written text is misinterpreted as a verification of the words,” said Sipley. To that end, Alex Kluge shared an article about how seeing a political logo can impair a reader’s understanding of facts. Adding to those complexities, said Wilson, “while text is not necessarily ‘flat’, images and videos lend themselves to multiple sensible interpretations. More sensible impressions result in more possibilities of emphasis.” So, how do we encourage students to utilize digital literacy skills with images and other digital content in their daily lives?

More than a few #DLNchat-ters recommended that educators should ask students to use examples of digital content from their personal lives when learning information literacy skills. Leah Chuchran-Davis advised integrating the digital literacy skills employers seek into lessons for students. Kinsey wrapped up his thoughts rather instructively: “Teach them to listen before reacting. Teach them to think before responding. Teach them to question before attacking. Teach them to understand before assuming.”

How do you think we can best teach digital and information literacy skills? Tweet our community with #DLNchat to share your ideas! You can also RSVP for our next chat: How Will Nontraditional Providers Influence Digital Learning Design? on Tuesday, October 9 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our summaries of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.

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