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Paper – Educating for Misunderstanding

Sam Wineburg, Joel Breakstone, Nadav Ziv, and Mark Smith, “Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers” (Working Paper A-21322, Stanford History Education Group, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 2020). Graduate School of Education Open Archive.

“Russian troll farms sow disinformation. Fake news runs amok on social media. Bots impersonate real people. Real people assume false identities. How do we know what’s true? The only thing certain in our digital age is our uncertainty. This confusion impairs our ability to make wise, fact-based decisions that shape our nation’s future. What has been the educational response to this predicament? The most common approaches—“media literacy,” “news literacy,” “digital literacy,” and even that catch-all, “critical thinking”—share a commitment to teaching people how to tell truth from fiction, recognize hoaxes, and practice caution before passing along dubious content to family and friends. Are these approaches effective in helping today’s college students make thoughtful choices about what to believe? To address this question, we surveyed 263 college sophomores, juniors, and seniors at a large state university on the East Coast. On one task, students evaluated the trustworthiness of a “news story” that came from a satirical website. On a second task, students evaluated the website of a group claiming to sponsor “nonpartisan research.” In fact the site was created by a Washington, D.C. public relations firm run by a former corporate lobbyist. For both tasks, students had a live internet connection and were instructed to “use any online resources” to make their evaluations…”

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