In the simplest of definitions, being digitally literate means you have the ability to live, work, vote, and thrive in an increasingly digital world. Some may think that digital natives (those born at a time in which technology use was ubiquitous) are innately equipped to deal with the influx of information, but that is not the case.
Students must be taught to be critical consumers since research shows they are woefully inadequate in this skill. A Stanford study published in 2016 analyzed over 7,000 student responses for their ability to judge credible information. In the study, 80% of middle school students could not identify sponsored content from a news article on a home page. 40% of high school students, when presented with a photo published anonymously on the photo-sharing site Imgur, found it to be a credible source simply because it was a picture. A third part of the study asked undergraduate students to evaluate a MoveOn.org tweet for its validity. More than half of the students did not click through the link provided in the tweet to get additional information about the claim before making a judgment. Less than a third of students considered the organization’s political background when evaluating the information.
Helping students detect misinformation is critical as the line between facts and propaganda continues to blur and an increasingly casual attitude is taken toward validity. All information online is presented as if it has equal value and validity. Clear responsibility for validity does not exist. It is up to each individual user to determine what is bogus and what is valid. The following quote from the Stanford study stood out to me “At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish” (Stanford History Education Group, 2016). If educators are not willing to teach students to identify misinformation, we risk allowing politicians and corporations to rob our students of agency.
One strategy that educators should have in their tool-belt is the CRAAP test which is a framework students can use when assessing the validity of information. Credit for the strategy belongs to California State University, Chico. Below is a reproducible guide that I found helpful in my own classroom.