Hands up who else remembers the many days spent in the library researching school projects? There was no Google and no instantly checking things from your laptop. Instead, information was sourced by rifling through the pages of the Encyclopaedia and various text books.
Though technology now offers kids open access to a deluge of information, fact checking remains an essential part of learning as the digital world can be the biggest culprit for false information.
A 2015 study from Stanford University History Education Group (HEG) found that students significantly lacked the ability to recognise credible information online. The report stated: ‘Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.’
In short, technology has moved at such a pace that kids are yet to develop the skills to absorb, assess and sift through the unprecedented amounts of information they are bombarded with.
So, how can we help our kids to become savvy digital detectives?
We can generally trust a printed textbook, however, for digital information we need to research the source. In fact, for any online content we need to consider rather than simply consume information.
Start by investigating the site – research its mission, it’s contact information, or any previous articles. Then research the author – are they credible? Are they even real?
Also, check the date on the article. You may find that is too old or and irrelevant to current events.
Just because something is on page 1 of Google, doesn’t mean it is the most credible source. If someone has 100,000 Instagram followers, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily telling the truth. Superior SEO and polished website design can create a false sense of security, and we need to look beyond that.
To encourage clicks, online headlines are designed to be attention grabbing. We need to read beyond those headlines to uncover the whole story. If it’s too outlandish, it may be satire, further research of the site should reveal this.
Just as we put our trust in textbooks, there are still some reputable sources out there, and the library is still one of the best resources! Your library card gives you access to the full digital version of Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as a plethora of credible sources, so there is no need to spend money buying text books or waste a bundle of time trying to sort right from wrong on Google.
Next time your child has a project to research, sit and search with them. Show them the additional search options (such as putting specific terms in quotes), and the filter tabs that allow you to search verbatim (exactly that word), or by type (news, image, video). You can even specify a word not to be included by putting a hyphen in front of it.
If there is a site you trust, put a colon before the site name in the search bar and the search engine will only search that site. For example, “penguins”:abc.net.au will pull up all the stories the ABC has published on penguins.
These digital detective skills will be something that will become vital to our children as they progress through their academic journey. Most universities today dictate that any essay sources must be from either a credible textbook or verified source. And, as they grow into digitally savvy adults, their ‘fake news’ detector will become second nature.
By Karen Gawen, Young People’s Services Supervisor from Sunshine Coast Council