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Op/ed: Students (and Many Adults) Can’t Tell Fact From Fiction Online

UMD Education Researcher Urges Schools to Help Teach Internet Skills to Curb Rising Misinformation

By Sarah McGrew

Illustration of two people examining online news with magnifying glass

Amid a rising tide of misinformation, schools can help students learn to evaluate the legitimacy of what they read online, a UMD researcher writes in a new essay.

Illustration by iStock

Think that websites that end with “.org” are more reliable than those with “.com”? Or that slick-looking sites are authoritative? Such myths have made it difficult, particularly for students, to know who and what to trust online—a problem they too often share with the adults in their lives. Amid the confusion, misinformation continues to proliferate throughout society, a University of Maryland education researcher says.

In a new essay in Education Week, Sarah McGrew, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, recommends that schools help solve the problem by revealing to students the shortcomings in their mental shortcuts to gauge truthfulness on the internet, and teaching new approaches such as “reading laterally” or quickly checking a range of sources about a doubtful claim.

If you are a teacher, you’ve probably heard students share something they learned on TikTok or Instagram and thought, “That doesn’t sound true. … ” Sometimes, those stories are lighthearted and laughed off. Other times, they shape the way students think about the world and their place in it.

For example, students are sharing what they’ve heard on social media about the war in Ukraine. Some stories are true, but some are questionable or completely made up. As community members and soon-to-be voters, students should be able to sort fact from fiction and high-quality sources from propaganda. As teachers, we have an opportunity—even an obligation—to help.

However, such help may not be widespread. In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, fewer than 4 in 10 K-12 teachers in the United States reported teaching students to evaluate online information.

Read the rest in Education Week.



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