January 19, 2023
Deep fakes and fake news are old news. Content about world events is taken more seriously than content that entertains us. Can we deem popular culture and entertainment that misleads us as harmless? Do some young people separate the creative storylines in music or social media, e.g. memes, etc., and confuse these with reality so they become real to the audience, and blur the line between reality and fantasy? We suspend our belief when it comes to entertainment, but often in movies, villains and heroes are still cast as insidious stereotypes. Does entertainment not need to worry about ethical responsibility because it is make-believe? Does being misinformed about unimportant facts matter or not?
One example of people being misinformed about facts, possibly exacerbated by movies, relates to popular ideas about how dinosaurs looked, moved, and acted. What do you think of when you think of dinosaurs? Most people would imagine that dinosaurs are reptiles and look like something out of Jurassic Park. However American paleontologist Jack Horner says that dinosaurs were probably vividly colored, danced, and sang, and were more like birds than reptiles. You can argue that films are just entertainment and that dinosaurs are irrelevant to our world today, but what happens when we are misinformed about a person, whole communities, countries, and the rest of the world?
As educators, we need to ensure that our students have been taught effective research skills so they have the ability to fact-check and trace their references to see if they are reliable sources. Do they know what constitutes a reliable source of information? We can guide students in checking their sources and information. Your school might use the following Common Core ELA or ISTE Student standards for example:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.8: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
ISTE Student Standards
1.3b Knowledge Constructor: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility, and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
How can we bring the standards to life and show their relevance to learning? We have found it useful to share the standards with students and to work on strategies collaboratively with our students, which results in an authentic learner experience.
As our students traverse digital and virtual environments (some of which are hidden in plain sight from teachers and families alike) in the pursuit of information and entertainment, we need to give them strategies to support them in being responsible and critical fact-finders. One such website claims to provide a balanced view of the news because it shows different sides of a story. It aims to help you think for yourself by recognizing how media bias is present in the news and other information sites. Each article has three other stories, one with a slant from the left, one from the right, and also one from the center. It is fascinating to read the different articles and differing viewpoints and then fact-check to gain an understanding of how information has been manipulated. The site explains news bias and that everyone is biased, so there is no such thing as unbiased news. However, it is the hidden media bias that misleads and molds our opinions while often fractionalizing our communities.
The Knowledge Twister Toolⓒ can be used with students to explore some of the different ways that knowledge can be manipulated for a positive or negative outcome.
Place your chosen fact or information in the larger rectangle and ask students what impact the different verbs around it have on it e.g. what are the differences if they invert or deepen the fact that ‘Dinosaurs sang and danced’? Deepening our knowledge would mean we look more closely at the research and develop a greater understanding of particular information. If we invert the fact, we could say that dinosaurs had no voice and were not at all agile. Students could ask: How would this impact dinosaurs and the world around them?
From their experience of using this graphic, students can investigate and identify examples of this type of manipulation of knowledge in their resources. They might also reflect on if and how they manipulate facts and knowledge themselves in conversations and interactions with their friends.
How can we guide our students as they experiment with ideas and discover new things about themselves and their world? In his search for new knowledge, paleontologist Jack Horner CAT (computerized axial tomography) scanned some dinosaur skulls, reconstructed the internal structures, and blew air into them virtually to work out the noises they might have made. Are we equipping our students with the tools they need to question what they know and deepen their knowledge so they can differentiate fact from fiction when it matters?
AllSides (Ed.). (2022). AllSides balanced news. Allsides.com. Retrieved September 8, 2022, from https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-newsOne Planet Podcast (Presenter). (2022, August 19). Highlights – Jack Horner – Renowned Dinosaur Paleontologist, One Planet Podcast,19 August 2022 [Speech].
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