Can You Tell an Ad from News? Many Students Can’t

A Stanford University study recently found that middle school, high school and college students are “easily duped” when asked to identify legitimate sources of news. For example, eighty percent of middle-schoolers didn’t understand that articles labeled “sponsored content” on news websites are paid advertisements and not objective journalism. The study’s authors reached this alarming conclusion: “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

It’s a problem that Cathy Reznicek, an Educational Technology Specialist at the Ventura County Office of Education, is working to address. She says, “The rise in the amount of media we consume on digital devices came fast, and educators haven’t caught up. It’s at the point where it’s critical right now.”

Reznicek says today’s students face challenges in conducting research that older generations didn’t have to contend with. “If you get a book at a library, it’s a relatively safe bet that there was some scrutiny as to what was written in the publishing process,” she says. “Online, anyone can publish anything and you don’t have those checks and balances.”

That’s why students need to learn to be skeptical about the information they find online. Instead of assuming the first result in a Google search is the best one, they need to look for trusted sources and know how to determine whether a particular publisher is trying to inform or to persuade. Reznicek says one of the best ways to teach these skills it to have students create their own digital content. “As they produce their own digital media, they start to better understand how it’s produced by others and they can see through the veil.”

There are endless opportunities to teach media research skills and critical thinking in any subject at all grade levels and Reznicek says it’s starting to happen at a growing number of local schools. She’s glad to see the issue getting more attention because in the 21st century, literacy is about much more than knowing how to read and write.

About the Ventura County Office of Education

The Ventura County Office of Education provides a broad array of fiscal, training and technology support services to local school districts, helping to maintain and improve lifelong educational opportunities for children, educators and community members. VCOE also operates schools that serve students with severe disabilities and behavioral issues, provides career education courses, and coordinates countywide academic competitions including Mock Trial and the Ventura County Science Fair. Learn more at: www.vcoe.org.


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