DA op-ed: Fact, opinion or fake news?

Educational technologist Kathy Schrock, who will be a featured speaker at DA's FETC 2020, offers guidance and resources for teaching students how to critically evaluate online material
By: | August 6, 2019
Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist with a keen interest in critical evaluation, emerging technologies, and information literacy.

How can a student, searching the web to learn something new, know if they have landed on a non-credible site? Without a knowledge-base in the topic, it may be hard for them to determine incorrect information.

I have been working with critical evaluation of web material since the inception of the graphical web. As I created my Guide to Educators back in 1995, I realized early-on that determining credible information was difficult. I have critical evaluation worksheets on everything from web pages to podcasts located here to help students think carefully about a site they are viewing or a podcast they are listening to.

However, non-credible information used to be more about accidental mis-information by someone who did not know enough about a topic or the unsure decision about the credibility of the author, not the intentional trickery, as it is seems to be today. We must work with students so they can both recognize biased information and know the difference between a fact and an opinion. These skills are life skills, not just Internet information skills!

Becoming a good digital citizen commonly includes the mastering of a multitude of skills. I like this image, created by Wesley Fryer and Marcia Moore, which provides a visual overview of the important components, including digital citizenship, character education and ethics, and safety, security and privacy.

The Digital Classroom Starter Kit from Common Sense Education provides digital citizenship activities and lessons as part of their classroom technology use ideas. They also provide a wonderful K-12 digital citizenship curriculum with the scope and sequence found here and have recently started updating their curriculum. You can visit their News and Media Literacy units here.

There are also many other sites which outline the nine elements of digital citizenship in detail as you can see from this Google search. Although these elements are all important, the element of digital citizenship I am most passionate about is the information literacy element.

This great poster, in a post on ISTE’s site describes it best:
A good digital citizen applies critical thinking to all online sources and doesn’t share non-credible resources, including fake news or advertisements.

Recognizing bias

Kimberly Moran, in her blog post on WeAreTeachers, provides seven tips for teaching students to recognize bias. Moran includes some great ideas and lessons, too. Here are a few of her suggestions.
Help students understand what the terms “fake news” and “news bias” really mean. Provide an explanatory overview of each.

Give your students information that seems real and have them evaluate it. Here is a list of some sites I have identified as useful for student critical evaluation practice.

All About Explorers: Christopher Columbus
Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanies
Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide
Burmese Mountain Dog
Burmese Mountain Dog 2
Buy an Ancestor Online
California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge
Case Analysis of a Historic Killer Tornado
Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
Feline Reactions to Bearded Men
Google Job Opportunities
Google Technology
Jacopo di Poggibonsi
Mankato (MN) Home Page
MoonBeam Enterprises and Lunar Travel Agency
History of the Fisher-Price Airplane
OvaPrima Foundation
Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
Target Field Collapses
Taxonomy of Barney
Visit Exciting Fredericton

Moran also suggests teaching your students how to cross-check information. Have them look for conflicting information about the author of the text, images that have been edited, exaggerated claims, and use the “Links to this URL” on Google’s Advanced Search page to see if credible sites link to the one they are researching.

Here are some additional sites and resources to help teach about bias:

The Institute for Humane Education provides a list of sites to help educators recognize their own unconscious bias and how to teach students to recognize implicit bias.
Teaching Tolerance offers a lesson plan for students in grades 6-8 that “focuses on teaching students to identify how writers can reveal their biases through their word choice and tone”.
The MediaSmarts site provides high school students with the skills to recognize bias and point of view in newscasts and newspaper articles based on the language used in the story and also understand the role of subjectivity and perception in the media. This lesson plan includes having students deconstruct a news story based on language, story selection, and story order.
This character education lesson, Recognizing Bias, provided by Learning to Give, helps middle schools students, through a simple classroom activity, to understand about personal biases.
Discovery Education includes a 2:37 Common Craft video called Bias Detection. This short video demonstrates the importance of recognizing and accounting for bias when evaluating sources of information. It is intended for students in grades 6-12.
Humans as Variables (4:47) is another Discovery Education video clip and it is intended for grades K-5. Its purpose is to show students how a person’s bias could have an impact on a scientific study’s results.
The Facing History and Ourselves site includes an eleven lesson unit, Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age. This unit is to help students understand and recognize the choices facing journalists, explore the impact of social media on current-day news cycles, and become critical consumers of news.
The essential question for the unit is: What is the role of journalism in a democratic society, and how can we become responsible consumers and producers of news and information in the digital age?

Fact or opinion?

An information literacy topic, related to recognizing bias, is that of determining if something is a fact or an opinion. Oftentimes, students mistake well-stated opinions for fact.

There are some great sites on the Web with information and tips to give students practice with the skills to know the difference.

Media specialists Donna Mignardi and Jennifer Sturge curated a list of resources to help middle school students recognize the difference between fact, opinion, and informed opinions. The sites they include focus on fact-checking lessons and resources.

A lesson plan by Scott Ertl is a guidance lesson for students in grades K-5. The lesson includes the comparison of fact and opinion materials in the news media. It also contains a guidance component titled “My Opinion Matters”. In this section, students practice positive responses to not-so-nice opinion statements classmates might make.

This lesson, posted on MediaSmarts, for grades 9-12, Fact Versus Opinion, was adapted from a publication by the Canadian Newspaper Association titled “News is not just black and white”. The lesson includes activities for recognizing bias and understanding how newspapers often include both fact and opinion in the same news story.

The New York Times Learning Network provides practice in determining fact and opinion in this lesson. Of course, the Learning Network has plenty of material to pick from, and provides links to real articles that students can discuss. The activities include use of pencil and paper, but students could just as easily mark them up on a digital device.

This mini-lesson from the Public Schools of Robeson County (NC) is an excellent resource for teaching the younger (grade 3-5) students about fact and opinion. The lesson includes explicit instruction and pedagogical tips for the educators, too! I believe that this min-lesson would also work for middle school students. Some of the components of the lesson can easily be completed using online tools, too.
Discovery Education includes materials for support of teaching and learning about fact vs. opinion for students in grades 6-8. The 4:21 video segment, Fact vs. Opinion, provides scenarios to help students recognize both fact and opinion in informational text.
The Author’s Purpose, another video clip in the Discovery Education collection, is a 4:24 video for grades 3-5. It helps students evaluate writings and decide if an author is trying to inform (fact) or trying to persuade (opinion).

Your thoughts and ideas

Do you have resources or tips for teaching bias, fact, and opinion? Why do you feel this area of information literacy is important for our students to become good digital citizens? Do you have another area of digital citizenship you are passionate about? Please share it with me at [email protected]


Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist with a keen interest in critical evaluation, emerging technologies, and information literacy. She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC. Contact her at [email protected] and on Twitter @kathyschrock.

This blog post is re-printed in its entirety with permission from Discovery Education where it was published on Kathy Schrock’s blog Kathy’s Katch in February, 2019.


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