A study released earlier this weeks by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) states that students have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality in the online environment. As a result, they are not able to set apart online advertisement pieces from actual information, news reports, and articles.
Hence, the youngsters question the integrity of the information presented via social networking sites and oftentimes mix things together. Moreover, people assume that just because students are in trend with social media they can be equally perceptive of the matters they stumble upon while browsing for information.
“Our work shows the opposite to be true”, says the founder and lead author of the SHEG report, Professor Sam Wineburg.
The group of researchers took the first steps in 2015. This was before rumors of fake news reports tilting the balance of the recent presidential election began to surface. The authors were concerned about the integrity of the democracy, in particular. Their main worry was that disinformation is easy to spread among the people, something that could easily destabilize a nation.
The director of the Stanford History Education Group, Mr. Joel Breakstone, provides several means which young students can use to evaluate multiple sources. From its inception, the curriculum has been downloaded over 3.5 million times. Today, many educational establishments use his work in aiding students to select the right information.
The study focuses mainly on the students’ ability to interpret social media feeds, such as Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, it also covers the information provided in the comment sections, news literacy, photos and a wide range of other digital messages that could express certain ideas.
The authors, consisting of librarians, teachers, news experts, and several university officials designed 15 tests suited for middle school students up to college graduates. As opposed to their expectations, every student that undertook the test failed it.
The researchers came to the conclusion that students were unable to identify the right sources, due to the high number of articles that look at the same problem from many opposing angles. For example, the youngsters had to determine Margaret Sanger’s position on euthanasia. A quick Google search showed that dozens of websites were addressing the matter from completely different points of view.
According to Mr. Wineburg, the next logical step is to increase the number of lesson plans on the integrity of the information in high schools. The Stanford History Education Group has already started giving lessons on the importance of the sources. Hence, by the time students finish high school, the founders can only hope that the youngsters will be able to sort good information from online ads and personal points of view.
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