Ok, Maybe Take My Word For It?

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An average day for reading for me consists of a lot, and I mean a lot, of reading. I generally begin my mornings by reading the news on my phone (news apps and aggregate apps). My Google Home keeps me company when I’m getting ready with news podcasts.

All of this reading and listening makes sense, as I’m an English teacher.

My post last week touched on “fake news” in regards to media literacy with students, but I focused mostly on a pedagogical approach to media literacy, with resources like the NYT.

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In terms of my own consumption of media, I’ve pared down what I consume in terms of sources. I’ve logged off of Facebook and Instagram as a New Year’s resolution and have stuck to it, surprisingly. I re-visited my lack of Facebooking in February and decided that I really didn’t need it and have kept it shut down.

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Which, considering the news recently, I think was a wise decision in hindsight.

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In my Facebook news feed were all kinds of “articles” from all different kinds of sources, like well-meaning aunts posting Food Babe articles or Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest and greatest “medical” treatments.

When I or anyone is faced with these articles on a social media feed, there is a choice: do you comment or not? If you comment, you risk offending relatives (which makes holidays a wee bit awkward) or ignore it.

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If you comment, are you educating the person? Do they want to know if the information they’re posting is wrong? Why did they post it in the first place? Do I have a moral obligation (similar to the one that caused them to post in the first place…) to correct what I perceive as misinformation?

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The question of information versus misinformation is hard to tackle in such a limited space, like Facebook, where if I refresh the page, I have one heck of a time finding that post again. But, Facebook counts on that limited attention span. They hope I get distracted by someone’s cat pictures, forget about the controversial thing and click on that ad they just posted.

This also brings up the question of media literacy in older as well as younger consumers of news. I wonder who is more media literate? Younger or older generations? Or are they equally susceptible to fake news?

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In terms of analyzing media I come across, I try to practice what I preach. I examine the source. If I’m not familiar with the source, I use Google and DuckDuckGo (as I mentioned in a previous blog entry about filter bubbles). When I use a tool like Google, I look at the web search results and the news result. I like to see what else they have published in the past.

In addition, I try to distinguish between opinion pieces and informational articles. The line between those is sometimes blurred, as opinion can colour the facts given or how the facts are viewed by the audience (see Colten Boushie).

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It’s not easy, though. There’s so much out there I’d like to believe. But I know I can’t believe it straight on. I need to look further and deeper.

It’s a personal mission to combat fake news and to promote media literacy, not only within myself but within everyone I encounter.

Maybe I’ll have to get back on Facebook to continue this crusade…

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Don’t Take My Word For It…

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This week’s readings focused on the concept of “fake news“, which is a really scary thought.

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Every week, I challenge myself to a Buzzfeed quiz (I know I know) to see if I’ve been following the news blindly and just reading the headlines or if I’ve dived deeper to see what’s really happening in the world.

What’s even more terrifying is, even though I’m a news junkie, I don’t get perfect scores. I still fall for real-sounding headlines that have just enough credibility to fool me.

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The article from The New York Times (with the accompanying link their really amazing lesson plan — NYT has stellar educational resources, FYI) really struck home. What exactly am I doing to help combat fake news? What am I teaching – today – to help my students become more media literate?

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The NYT Learning Network has a weekly news quiz for students that I would probably be better served completing instead of Buzzfeed, because, being semi-media literate myself, I understand that the credibility of Buzzfeed, with its glaring, click-baity headlines, is not the paragon of objective, real journalism.

This was especially troubling to my teaching practice because I teach a lot of grade 12s. This is second semester. I’m supposed to be releasing them on the world as fully-fledged adults in THREE MONTHS and I can’t guarantee they’ll know the difference between real and fake news.

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I really have my work cut out for me in the next few months.

Luckily, I have the TED Talk about what my students can do and I teach B30, which means my entire course is focused around global issues and this means I have the perfect platform for media literacy education.

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This isn’t to say that I can’t or won’t teach media literacy to my other classes, because I most definitely will. However, I feel the most urgency with the grade 12s because they’re graduating so soon.

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The problem I face is determining the line between opinion pieces and factual news stories. Websites like Breitbart News have been legitimized through their political connections and combating what is said on that website is difficult because it has been promoted as an unbiased alternative to the “left-wing media”.

Educating students on media literacy is an uphill battle we face as educators and it is one that I am willing to take on.

How have you been taking on the battle against fake news and promoting media literacy in your classroom and your personal life?

Filter Your Bubble

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Oh my.

This week’s virtual visit from Pat Maze (thanks, by the way!) was really eye-opening. It is really scary to think just how under scrutiny teachers are. Teachers are really supposed to adhere to a strict set of  behaviours, both in public and privately.

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It seems like the role of the teacher has not changed all that much: teachers are still seen as guardians of student virtue and innocence. The medium may have changed, but the message remains the same: teachers are in charge of protecting the future at all costs. This may mean at the cost of the teacher as a person.

In my current context, I am at a fairly diverse high school. This means I have everything from having to explain what Twitter is:

To having students explain what VSCO is (spoiler: it’s Instagram without the drama). There’s a wide-range of levels in regards to digital citizenship in this context. For the beginners, it’s mostly how to navigate safely. For those more used to using tech tools, it’s a matter nuance and advocacy. How to use their voice to make a difference now that they’re done being a passive consumer of technology.

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In my vision, the idea of digital citizenship will be ubiquitous. Right now, as it stands, digital citizenship isn’t as widespread or as integrated into curriculum as it ought to be. Digital citizenship is a growing concern because of the availability of information and content online, but there is a disconnect between how to discern what is good and what is bad.

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As well, there is the issue of “filter bubbles” as seen in the TED talk video. Filter bubbles change the information you see, and sometimes to a drastic extent. I have discussed the concept of filter bubbles with classes and we experiment with searching terms that could change based on your search history (think political parties, particular news stories etc) and then searching that same thing in an incognito window or in DuckDuckGo. Students are shocked by the difference that eliminating a search history can make.

In conclusion, the demands on a teacher in regards to social knowledge online is expanding. Teachers must be hyper vigilant when working through their online identity and that of their students.

However, I think the gif below sums up teachers’ jobs perfectly: be vigilant but not afraid.

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