For teens and tweens, the Internet is more than just a place to play games, download music or chat with friends. Research shows that social media has become these young people’s main source of news.
While uncovering news on the Internet may be easy, discerning what is truly news versus commentary or just plain tall tales can be difficult for adults — never mind young people that in most cases are novices when it comes to searching out news.
That is where Shelton Intermediate School’s Ron Gydus comes in. The longtime library media specialist is spearheading the school’s news and media literacy program — with hopes of providing students with the tools to make informed choices during their hunt for accurate news.
“Media specialists, as school’s digital experts, have a responsibility to teach these strategies and to collaborate with colleagues to develop their students’ news and media literacy as part of their 21st century skills,” said Gydus, during last month’s Board of Education meeting at which he was named the district’s Innovator of the Month.
"This is a great gift what we’re giving to our students here,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet.
Gydus said that research due by commonsense.org shows that, in 2018, children ages 10 to 18 preferred online media more than any other news sources for the first time in the firm’s research history. And this data, according to Gydus, shows that teens get their news from social media more than any other news source.
A recent Stanford University study involving 7,800 students from middle school through college found that the overwhelming majority could not tell the difference between credible content online and “fake news,” said Gydus.
"Students are relying on digital content as their news source more than ever, yet they do not have the ability to discern reliable, accurate news from biased or fake news,” said Gydus. “There is a need for media literacy in our schools.”
According to Gydus, media literacy is “essential skill in the digital age” to assist young people to think critically; become a smart consumer of products and information; recognize different points of view; create media responsibility; identify the role of media in today’s culture; and understand the author’s goal.
“When kids understand what type of influence something has,” said Gydus, “they can make informed choices.”
Teens are spending an average of nine hours per day interacting with various forms of media, and Gydus said that the “information overload” and access and abundance of information is “blurring the lines between fact and opinion, reality and fantasy, and unbiased reporting and fake news.
Gydus said that the media specialists teach students that when finding an online news source or story to remember that “someone created it, and it was created for a reason. Understanding that reason is the basis of media literacy.”
The SIS library media center teaches students to think critically; become a smart consumer of products and information; recognize the news source’s point of view; create media responsibly; identify the role of media in culture; and understand the author’s goal. Students are taught to ask themselves such questions as “Who created the online news piece and why? Who is the message for? What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable? What details were left out, and why? How did the message make you feel?”
"We’ve made great strides,” said Gydus. “We have a strong department and have made great progress in our schools.
Lessons calls on students to identify bias in news as well as various propaganda techniques used in media. Though “lateral reading,” Gydus said students evaluate a news source by researching the source itself. Students also tackle “fake news” by examining videos to determine if they are real or altered and websites for accuracy, while also fact checking stories. Students also simulate creating fake news to gain followers in this activity to determine how and why fake news is constructed.
Students then create digital portfolios, which collect all the students’ work in digital form with the goal being to get them to use new technology, ultimately leading to reflection during which students see their progression of learning from start to finish.
“Students need the tools to become responsible consumers of information,” said Gydus. “In doing so, they will be able to utilize these skills to navigate their way through the information and disinformation that is their digital world today.”