Stranger Than Fiction

In today’s media-saturated world, it can be a difficult task to distinguish between fact and fiction. Even harder still is the task of teaching younger, less experienced people to sift, sort, scrutinize and share only what’s true and meaningful online. This week’s content included some great resources to assist in both of these difficult tasks and gave me a lot to reflect and think about in the contexts of consumer, creator, and educator.

WHOSE TRUTH?

One of the things I’ve thought about the most this week has been the idea of truth being subjective, relative, or a matter of perspective. But before you scoff, let me clarify. I’m not saying that facts can’t be found or that truth doesn’t exist; I’m just saying that people perceive truth differently. There tends to be a lot of grey area in what truths people hold, especially when we’re discussing news and media.

It brought to mind a widely-shared meme where two people are looking at a figure on the ground from different sides; one insists it’s a 6 while the other a 9 (try as I might, I was unable to find the original source of the said meme, but I found a version of it connected to a pretty great blog post in my search, so I’ve linked that here instead) To me, this graphic really highlights the idea that the truth is not always easy to determine and that sometimes it requires us to go the extra mile and apply those media literacy skills that are so critical in a world where new content is being generated online at a mind-blowing rate.

Photo Credit: Chad Bockius

With all of the ideas above being said, it’s still worth noting that I do my due diligence when sharing and posting information online. I usually do this by verifying sources, fact-checking and/or being the natural skeptic that I am. However, if you’re like me and you need a little more structure and process in your life, this Forbes article does a great job in helping outline steps to take when creating and sharing content online. This is particularly relevant to me now that I’m officially a ‘blogger.’ By the way, I love being able to say that again after so many years since my last blog. Anyway, moving on…

LIVING & TEACHING IN THE FAKE NEWS ERA

At a time when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” (Pew Research Center) it’s no wonder the truth is so hard to uncover. While this article was shocking and frankly a little hard to swallow, I have to admit I didn’t find it all that hard to believe because of things I’ve seen on my own social media feeds. I think I really started paying attention to this during the primary elections in 2015 when friends and family started sharing the most ludicrous posts without a second thought. In the months that followed, my friend list decreased significantly and I began tuning into my own biases and evaluating where I get my news. Without getting too political here, I will say that it was comforting to learn that the majority of my news comes from neutral sources.

Photo Credit: Ad Fontes Media, Inc.

Thanks to the 2016 U.S. presidential election and complete insanity that has followed, the term ‘fake news’ has become a popular phrase across the globe, and one that I’ve leveraged as an entry point to teach students about the reliability of online sources. A few months back, I did a fantastic and engaging lesson with upper elementary classes to help them determine real from fake sites to use for a research project. It was the beginning of an ongoing discussion among students and teachers at school to help support them in being more critical consumers of information. The resources provided this week from Media Smarts are a great addition to my toolkit for future lessons and ones that I’m excited to share with my colleagues before I leave at the end of the year.

THE FUTURE OF TRUTH

As in the previous weeks of this COETAIL journey, I’ve been left with a number of things to consider moving forward. Most of these have manifested as questions, so I’ll end this post with what’s lingering.

  • What role do beliefs play in the quest for truth?
  • What role do data and research play in determining truth?
  • How can educators simplify something so abstract in order to help young students understand it?
  • How do my biases come through when I teach?
  • What am I doing to support my students in being critical of the information they find and share online?
  • How can I embed more of these media literacy skills across other curriculum areas?
  • What does the future of media and information hold?

3 Replies to “Stranger Than Fiction”

  1. Hey Reyna,

    I loved that you wrote the blog post in relation to being a consumer, creator, and educator. As teachers, who hasn’t been in the situation where one student has tattled on another student and we hold our breath because we know there is always two sides to every story. That’s exactly what I thought of when I was reading your discussion of whose truth and when I saw your cartoon about the two meme.

    Thank you for sharing that link to the Forbes article and I can totally relate. I used to blog for fun and blogging for this course is forcing me to reexamine my digital citizen and media literacy skills. The Forbes article is a great resource – especially for folks like us who are getting back into it and how we can fact check our information and citation!

    I have hated that term “fake news” ever since it was used arbitrarily during the Presidential Election but I loved that you put a positive spin on it and have been able to harness to teach your students about reliability. I think that’s a great angle and it’s also very current so hopefully, this will speak to students a bit more. Your thoughtful questions at the end have nudged me to ask those questions of myself and I hope to be able to start incorporating some of those kinds of questions in my blog posts too!

  2. Hi Reyna!
    Like everything in life, there is always two sides of a story. I like your graphic because it shows how a simple number can have two different perspectives. But also it teaches us how to be open to those differences. Working in India for almost 8 years in a totally different culture made understand that concept in deep. The IB has a position paper that you will find it interesting ‘East is East and West is West by George Walker’ (https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/east-is-east-and-west-is-west-en.pdf).
    I like the slide show of your class, I have also used the example of the tree Octopus and the site about explorers. Every time I work on this topic with the students, I realized how important is the teacher-librarian collaboration. Because without the support of the teacher creating awareness about sources of information and credibility, librarians can’t do much. It’s a critical thinking exercise that will be a simple way to encourage students to become critical and not believe everything published on the web. ‘Fake news’ and political issues are really a dangerous combination that can manipulate and make people just believe. That’s the importance to raise generations of critical thinkers and not just followers and believers.

  3. I really like the questions that you ask yourself:
    What role do beliefs play in the quest for truth?
    I have a class that has about 14-15 different nationalities and to a lesser degree faiths. They have a different set of beliefs based on their religion, cultural and regional background. Sometimes to get them on the same level is difficult. For example, before Ramadan (Muslim holy month for fasting) this year I had to tell all the students that I had banned the word ‘Haram’ (not allowed in Islam) so no one could bandy the word around in class to describe someone elses’ behaviour. Everyone’s faith and practice is their own business! And this happens, when I am Muslim also.
    What role do data and research play in determining truth?
    I have to continuously point students towards other sources than Wikipedia for more authentic and credible research tools. We have online databases that the school subscribes to and I encourage my 8th grade students to use them so they are more familiar with them for high school next year.
    How do my biases come through when I teach?
    Yes, I do have biases and I especially have a problem when the students choose to quote me. I have now officially banned them from it unless they have done the research and can quote their sources.
    What am I doing to support my students in being critical of the information they find and share online?
    I have to continuously push them to do more, to find more details. They do not want to do any more research than they absolutely need to. The only way that I can deal with this is to make more rigid rubrics (I make them myself) that directly tie in to their assignment questions for projects in Social Studies.
    How can I embed more of these media literacy skills across other curriculum areas?
    I think I can increase media literacy skills only by being more aware of them myself which is happening while I work on the Coetail Course.
    What does the future of media and information hold?
    The future of media and information means that educators have to give up more and more control while showing and encouraging students to use media for positive change. I think if we show them even one way to do this they will find more for themselves.

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