By Bonnie L. Bastian, M.S., CCC-SLP, and Jayme Kaplan-Krutz, M.S., CCC-SLP
The internet and social media are now seamlessly integrated into our lives and have led to an information-saturated digital world. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have more accessible venues for social interactions and information gathering than ever before, but determining what information is true, which sources are trustworthy and what is worth sharing can be daunting tasks. Our digitally driven society and workplaces demand mastery of these skills, but without instruction students of all ages and backgrounds can fall short.
Stanford History Research Group’s 2019 and 2021 publications warn that students’ ability to determine the credibility of content shared across digital platforms is not a guaranteed byproduct of them growing up with the internet, but direct instruction techniques can effectively expand students’ competence. UNICEF’s 2021 report emphasizes a critical need to protect children as they face misinformation and disinformation, given that children’s still-developing cognitive skills render them especially susceptible.
Also, consider that children who are deaf or hard of hearing frequently miss out on incidental learning—knowledge gleaned from informal, non-academic situations and interactions—which can impact their understanding of internet safety and increase the need to bolster their digital savvy. Therefore, it’s imperative that educators and families explore avenues to prepare students who are deaf or hard of hearing to traverse and excel in the challenging and rapidly evolving digital environment.
Misinformation Versus Disinformation
There is value in encouraging students to go beyond simply identifying something as untrue. Guiding them to be curious thinkers who can distinguish between misinformation and disinformation will help them become more astute consumers of online information.
Dictionary.com defines misinformation as false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead. Disinformation, on the other hand, is false information that is spread intentionally in order to mislead others.
Regardless of intent, the result is often the same—the user is unaware they’re consuming untrue information. Students must learn to actively avoid disinformation traps and be cognizant of their role in the spread of false information within their own digital communities.
Strategies for Developing Wise Consumers and Contributors
To successfully navigate today’s digital world, individuals must be alert and savvy. Students who practice informed intake and mindful sharing will be better prepared to excel as digital citizens in the workplace, and these skills can be bolstered with help from parents, caregivers and teachers.
Invite students to check their gullibility-radar
For a quick way to spark student interest in digital literacy, consider assigning the News Literacy Project’s News Lit Quiz, which highlights consumers’ tendencies to accept familiar claims as absolute truths and bypass steps for confirming validity. The quiz also reinforces the need to develop a healthy skepticism when conducting internet searches and not assume the top search result is the most trustworthy.
Teach students tricks for spotting suspicious stories
Two popular fact-checking methods include the CRAAP Test and the SIFT Method. These mnemonic tools can provide students with an easy-to-remember starting point to analyze digital content.
is it Current
what is its Purpose
Investigate the claim
Find better coverage
Trace back to the original source
Stanford History Education Group recommends reading laterally. Instead of remaining on one site (vertical reading), lateral reading involves opening up additional browser tabs to engage in detective work to validate credibility.
Introduce fact checking tools and routines
Fact checking websites and browser extensions respond to viral news stories, misleading headlines, and trending altered images and videos to debunk false claims and disrupt the spread of mis/disinformation. Common Sense Media maintains libraries of relevant resources tagged with age-based ratings and reviews, such as Best News Sources for Kids and Fact-Checking Tools for Teens and Tweens. Their How to Use Google Reverse Image Search to Fact-Check Images video explains how students can also validate visual images circulating on the web.
Warn students about algorithm behavior
Algorithms are designed to track our every online move and result in web search results that become uniquely curated to steer us toward content we are more likely to interact with and consume. This leads us to fall prey to what internet activist Eli Pariser calls the “Filter Bubble Effect.” Within each of our own ‘filter bubbles,’ our view of the world becomes less diverse.
Challenge students to check their confirmation bias
Guiding students to recognize their personal biases and understand the importance of gathering objective evidence can help counteract confirmation bias. Healthy browsing habits such as clearing browser histories, browsing privately and consciously searching for diverse opinions and sources can help reduce confirmation bias and the filter bubble effect.
Inspire students to become part of the solution
Middle and high school students who host the virtual MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network are proving that social media can be harnessed as a tool for positive change, and that young citizens can act to reclaim and reshape the direction of the information age.
Resources for Continued Digital Literacy Learning
Among the abundant information digitally available today lies a wealth of freely accessible resources for students, educators and families to engage in digital literacy learning. Many schools are also fortunate to have librarians and library media specialists, who are well versed in supporting the digital literacy needs of a school community and can be invaluable resources in helping students decipher our online world.
Digital Skills for a Global Society offers robust digital literacy resource guides uniquely tailored to students, educators or caregivers.
The News Literacy Project offers a mobile app game, online lessons, fact-checked analyses of viral rumors, and informative podcasts, tips and quizzes—all designed to promote skills for combating misinformation.
Common Sense’s News and Media Literacy Resource Center provides news and media literacy lessons for grades K-12.
The National Association for Media Literacy Education provides tools, community support and resources for advancing media literacy education.
In supporting students as they learn to navigate digital information we must prepare them for using critical thinking skills, but simply telling them to ‘think before posting or sharing’ is not enough if we have not first given them explicit opportunities through curriculum to work with these tools to navigate our challenging digital world.
At the university level, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Communication Studies and Services Department offers 21st century skill-focused credit-bearing courses to RIT/NTID students, including a new course that challenges students to be informed consumers and ethical digital citizens. Students of all ages can benefit from focused exposure and practice with digital literacy skills at home and in educational spaces throughout their academic journeys. The resources shared in this article will set you on your way to empowering a future of citizens who responsibly participate in our ever-expanding digital society.