Eggplants & ISIS: How to Fight Fake News

 “If you drink 3 glasses of eggplant juice everyday for 21 days you won’t have to ever wear contacts again!” Whenever an aunt shares such gems of nutrition advice, I don’t even have to ask where she got it from, the answer is always the same: WhatsApp or Facebook.

“We can’t let refugees into America because most of them are ISIS terrorists!” Whenever a student makes such sensational claims, I know he’s fallen for the latest story circulating on cable news, click-bait sites, or Twitter.

How could such well educated adults be victims of such clearly fake news?

I’m excited to report that Steve Edwards, Alden Loury & Odette Yousef of WBEZ and John Silva & Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project helped me start answering that question at the NewsLit Camp in Chicago and shared a number of practical strategies for combating fake news in the classroom.

Highlight of the Day: Nerding out with journalists I’d been listening to on WBEZ/NPR for the last 15 years!

Why do so many people consume & share fake news?

  • Financial Incentives: The more sensational and emotionally charged the content the more likely we are to click on it and share it. In a profit starved media landscape supported by advertising, click-bait sites and fake social media accounts have emerged with the sole purpose of attracting the most eyeballs & followers and selling them to the highest bidder.
  • Psychological Need: We get a dollop of dopamine when someone likes our tweet or post. We’re also hardwired to share whatever tidbit we know about a breaking story to see if it can be weaved into the broader narrative. (See: Shared Sense Making & Rumor Theory).
  • Prevalence: From talk radio to cable news and social media, we can’t escape it. Even if we abstain from all news media, stories find us via our family & friends.

What can we do about it?

  1. Get Nuanced: The more precisely we can help students label fake news, the more effectively we can help them fight it. Fake news take on many forms: manipulated content, satire, content, disinformation. (See this sample lesson from Checkology)
  2. Affirm but Probe: When students propagate ideas with little to no basis in fact, affirm their views and appreciate their willingness to share them. Then, help the student probe what may have shaped his or her views: Where did you hear that? What evidence supports that view? How might saying “X” make “Y” feel? What are other perspectives on the issue? What might lead people to feel that way?
  3. Uncover Bias: Our biases are rooted in race, class, political affiliation, and other identities. We often accuse various news sources of being biased because they threaten our worldview. (See: Hostile Media Effect).
    • Teaching Tip: Take the branding off of 3-5 articles on the same story from different news sites (e.g. CNN, Fox News, NPR, etc). See if students can identify which article came from which source. Discuss the extent to which the chart below is accurate or an oversimplification:

.

Too often journalists don’t belong to the communities they’re reporting on creating blind spots in their reporting. To help news organizations uncover them, ask students to contact local papers & news channels and ask them to participate in ASNE’s Newsroom Diversity Survey Have students share their findings by creating Wikipedia pages for local news organizations. Update their entry every year with the latest survey results.

4. Encourage Students to Take Action:

  • Ask students to reply to peddlers of fake news (and people who comment on it) with fact checks of their claims.
  • Show students how to do a reverse Image search to check the validity of suspicious pictures:

5. Get Grounded

Advertisements

Beauty Pageants & Discussions

bundesarchiv_bild_183-54440-00012c_altgolc39fen2c_bau_eines_stalls_fc3bcr_lpg_28cropped29
Barn Raising in Action | SOURCE: Wiki Commons

According to Don McCormick of the University of Redlands and Michael Kahn, of the California Institute of Integral Studies most classroom discussions or seminars fall in one of the following four categories:

  • Free-for-All: In this seminar there is a prize to be won, whether it’s the instructor’s approval or one’s self esteem. There is no other goal but to win….One wins not simply by looking smart, but by looking smarter. Thus, important as it is to look smart, it is equally important to make the others look dumb.

  • Beauty Contest: This is the seminar in which each idea is paraded in all its finery, seeking admiration. When it has been displayed, its sponsor withdraws to think up the next idea, paying little attention to the next contestant. Thus, each person’s ideas bear little or no relation to anyone else’s.

  • Distinguished House Tour: Similarly, the Distinguished House Tour seminar begins with one member advancing an idea. The other students spend some time exploring that idea as they might an interesting house. They ask questions and look for inconsistencies, trying hard to understand the conception. When they have a good grasp of it, someone offers another idea and the seminar members explore that….When one is trying to explore a new thought, the pressure of the group probing for problems or inconsistencies is at best like a trial and at worst like an inquisition. We began by observing that the young and the shy, far from feeling encouraged, quickly retreated in the face of this exploration, however friendly and polite it might have been.

  • Barn Raising: This seminar begins with a member telling the group ideas which might be newly formed and not yet thought out. Then the community gathers to build the barn, to put together that idea. As I hear you say the original idea, it may be something I “disagree” with or something I’ve never thought about before; but now it becomes my project, and I set about helping you build it, helping us build it. After you’ve offered the idea, you have no more responsibility for developing it, defending it, or explaining it than anybody else in the group. If I have a problem with that idea, the problem belongs to the whole seminar, not just to you.

The barn raising form of discussion is as superior to other formats as it is rare. Teachers often are satisfied if they can simply achieve the “distinguished house tour” form of discussion because it at least demonstrates students willingness to share and defend original ideas.

However, a discussion where participants are truly interdependent and their exchanges lead to new ways of thinking necessitates the barn raising form of discussion. Above all, every member of the group must genuinely feel responsibility for developing the ideas in the discussion.

To help students better understand what these different forms of discussion look like, McCormick and Kahn recommend the following kinesthetic exercises:

  1. “Divide up into pairs. Now, with your right hand, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can, and with your left hand, screw up your partner’s.” (Let them continue for a minute or two or until it gets rowdy.) “OK. Now stop and quietly reflect on how that was for you. What feelings did it evoke?” [Free for All]

  2. “Now, with both hands, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can, but don’t get caught peeking at your partner’s. You might though, sneak a peek to see if it is better.” (Allow this to continue for a minute or two, then ask them to reflect on it.) [Beauty Contest]

  3. “Now, one of you, with both hands, make the most beautiful hand sculpture you can. The other person should explore it and examine it.” (Let this continue for a minute and then have them reverse roles. When both have completed, have them reflect quietly.) [House Tour]

  4. “Finally, make the most beautiful four-hand sculpture you can.” (Let this continue for a couple of minutes, then ask them to reflect on how this is different.) [Barn Raising]

After, each exercise it would be beneficial to have students discuss what this look like in an analogous discussion format. Then, after students have a mental framework for what truly collaborative discussions look like, McCormick and Kahn recommend students prepare for the discussion by reading “ the material looking for a question about it which you can offer the seminar. Choose the question you would most like to ask a very wise person who had read this material. Choose the question that seems to you put the material in the widest possible perspective.”

One way to help students, especially those in K-12, develop meaningful questions is by using the following Bloom’s’ Taxonomy Sentence Stems:

I hope to help students become skilled at the “barn raising” form of discussion over the course of the next school year.

Students’ Anonymous Debate: Trump vs Clinton

trump-clinton
SOURCE: CBS NEWS

How can we have students meaningfully engage with content that is being created in real-time? How can we create spaces where students feel comfortable asking peers probing questions on critical issues?

One solution: Carefully structured online spaces that provide live peer commentary and anonymous discussion.

verso-sample
Excerpt from students discussing September 26, 2016 Presidential Debate

Verso is just one of many tools such as Todays Meet, Google Classroom, Moodle Discussion Boards, and Back Channel that help facilitate online discussions. However, what sets Verso apart is that students post comments and questions anonymously and students can “up vote”  posts.  While teachers can see who has posted what, students post anonymously which makes students who might normally be reluctant to speak up in class comfortable sharing their views. Also, up-voting allows students to bring their peers’ attention to ideas they find interesting or important.


Verso can be an effective tool for helping students collaborate to create new understandings, as suggested by student-centered, reflexive pedagogy, and it is especially useful when learning about issues that are manifesting themselves in real time.  Below are seven principles of reflexive pedagogy as characterized by William Cope at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign followed by how they can be applied to students analyzing the Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.   For this activity, students received the following prompt & instructions:

  1. Before watching the debate:

    • Read Clinton & Trump’s views on key issues using this Washington Post overview
    • Post 1-2 questions that you would like to discuss with your peers during the debate.
    • Upvote as “helpful” the questions you believe are the most important & interesting
  2. During the debate:  Address at least 2 different classmates’ questions and/or post 2 thought-provoking observations about each candidate’s performance or how they addressed a specific issue.

SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF REFLEXIVE PEDAGOGY

  1. Ubiquitous Learning: anywhere, anytime, anyhow

Although students began the discussion in class by formulating questions, the conversations continued throughout the evening during the debate. Also, we were able to see which questions most students found interesting or important and analyze what made the question effective. Students could watch the debate on TV or stream it on a tablet, laptop or cellphone.  They could also use Verso on their computers or a mobile app.  

  1. Active Knowledge Making: the learner-as-knowledge producer and discerning knowledge discoverer/navigator

Students were able to deepen their understanding of key issues like the economy, national security and immigration by reflecting on their own views and supporting their opinions with evidence from the debate.   

  1. Multimodal Meaning: new media texts, multimodal knowledge representations

The students discussed by writing their responses but it was based on the debate they watched on TV. The discussion could be extended by asking students to post infographics or additional videos to provide evidence for their arguments.

  1. Recursive Feedback: formative assessment, prospective and constructive feedback, learning analytics

By encouraging students to respond to each other’s writing, students received feedback on the quality of their arguments.  However, to improve this activity next time, it would be important to ensure that all students get

  1. Collaborative Intelligence: peer-to-peer learning, sourcing social memory and using available knowledge tools appropriately

The anonymous posting allowed students to share their views confidently. Also, students learned from a broader range of students

  1. Metacognition: thinking about thinking, critical self-reflection on knowledge processes and disciplinary practices

Students had to self-assess what they already knew about an issue and formulate questions on what they wanted to learn about a candidate’s views.  Students also had to reflect on why they agree or disagree with a position, articulate their position and adjust their views in response to their peers’ challenges.

  1. Differentiated Learning: flexible, self-expressive and adaptive learning, addressing each student according to their interests, self-identity and needs

Although the online platform allowed students to share links to articles, video, etc, most students just responded with written commentary.  In the future, I will encourage students to find a greater variety of sources to support their views. Providing students options for the types of questions and responses they posted gave them the opportunity to pursue their own interests in issues facing our nation.

NOTE: This post was inspired by  coursework from the New Learning program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Form should fit Function

Too often, especially technology enthusiasts like me, are excited to try the latest new feature our favorite website or app offers. Whether it is interactive multi-player review games on Quizlet & Kahoot or “advanced differentiated” digital reading programs, we’re always looking for ways to engage our students and improve their learning.  Technology can play a powerful role in the classroom. However, we have to be more deliberate about how , when and why we use it.

I believe form should fit function.

Once we have considered and decided what the purpose of a particular learning activity is, we can decide how to structure it in order to hopefully help students achieve that outcome. Furthermore, the environment you’re teaching in and students backgrounds will play a role in shaping the design of the learning activity. For example, if your favorite LMS or discussion board gave students the option to rate each other’s posts or get points for quantity of posts, here are some aspects to consider: 

  • If the goal of an activity is to produce the largest number and the broadest variety of views on a specific topic, it might be helpful to publicize the number of times each student has posted. What gets measured, gets done.  
  • If your purpose is not to generate a broad range of views but to provoke the deepest level of thought, then it would be helpful to churn people’s ideas until the clearest, most thoughtful insights emerge. In this case a peer or instructor led rating system would be helpful.
  • If the students did not choose to be in the class (see factors of motivation in Dan Pink’s book Drive) and, therefore, they lack intrinsic motivation (and the teacher has done little to draw out an innate curiosity) then using extrinsic motivators like public praise (or punishment) as demonstrated by a public leaderboard for discussion posts would be appropriate. However, we have to be aware that while such a solution might generate more students to post, or even make longer posts (if one earns “points” that way), the quality of writing will continue to lag. Further, students may become discouraged that despite their best efforts they are still at the bottom of the pack. Extrinsic motivators will generally lead to short-term solutions or unintended consequences when true learning is the goal.

 

A rating system could introduce the best views or simply ones that many people agreed with.

This would lead us to the trap that Eli Pariser (Ted Talk: Beware of Online “Filter Bubbles”) and Cass Sunstein (Boston Review: The Daily We) want us to be cautious of. Although a human, peer generated ranking system could be better than the algorithmic ones used by Google or Facebook (although their human curators seemed to have landed them in hot water recently) we could still remain in what Pariser calls the “filter bubble” if there isn’t a robust criteria for how and why certain content is favored over others.

Similarly, Sunstein worries that digital spaces have led to a narrowing of political views instead of a broader open frontier we generally hold as the promise of the Internet. I see this too often in Twitter chats (or even chats in grad classes). Since most participants hold similar views (or they wouldn’t have participated in the chat or taken the course) or are worried about social ostracization if they present a contrary opinion, most online chats become echo chambers. This leads to participants simply holding stronger “versions of the same view with which they began” as Sunstein pointed out. Since self-selected online spaces can limit social influences and argument pools “there is legitimate reason for concern.”

 

Therefore, we must consider: 

  • What should be the balance between personalization and serendipitous experiences?
  • To what extent should we use algorithms to differentiate materials for students based on interest and ability versus deliberately introducing students to topics they might not be interested in or even explicitly disagree with?

 

Technology holds potential but requires carefully examination

In an online discussion there are opportunities for more dissenting views.  Many people post contrary  (and vitriolic) views  in the comments sections of news articles, I would say there is still significant range of opinions online. However, the comments on an article are often skewed towards the political leanings of the publication (e.g. New York Times vs The Wall Street Journal) because readers often chose to read (and comment on) newspapers whose coverage matches their own biases.  Further, online rating algorithms could make it less likely that you see views you disagree with, especially if the criteria by which posts are ranked are not made clear.

Having an algorithm based on other users feedback would be helpful for sifting through a forum (or product reviews) that numbered in the hundreds or thousands. Perhaps this will be the case in some MOOCs. However, courses could also be designed to have smaller cohorts of students interacting (reducing the number of point of views presented) but making an algorithm less necessary and escaping the filter bubble.

The more advanced technology becomes, the more aware we have to be of how it is shaping our views and, ironically, the more effort we must make to overcome the blind spots technology creates.

It’s interesting how we are becoming further dependent on technology to organize the explosion of information it helped create. Perhaps that’s the trade-off we have to live with: If we want access to the broadest range of views, more than we might be able to sort ourselves, we have to rely on an algorithm. Otherwise, we have to limit our access to information to a quantity to a quantity we can sift ourselves which potentially limits the diversity of views and could reinforce our preconceived notions unless we deliberately seek out points of view that differ from our own.

[NOTE: This post was inspired by a discussion in Prof. Burbules’ course on Education and Technological Reform. The coursework is part of the New Learning program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]

Harkness Discussion

For the past year I have been thinking a lot about how to get my students to think more deeply about what they read and to have the types of deep, meaningful and engaging conversations that made me fall in love with learning while in undergraduate and graduate school.

From amerist.org

That is why I have been reading Alexis Wiggins blog, Model by Design, with great interest. She has been cultivating a form of the Harkness Discussion throughout her career as an educator with great success. She describes the Harkness Discussion on her blog:

 

“Basically, it’s a highly-stylized version of Socratic seminar, which is a student-centered discussion on a particular topic, question, or text. In most high schools, Socratic seminar (or Harkness method, as some schools like to call it) is still driven by the teacher. While students are the ones discussing, the teacher is still the referee and master of knowledge, offering up the right question at the right moment, redirecting the conversation, correcting misunderstandings, and ensuring that students are being civil to one another.

 

In SPIDER Web Discussion, the teacher is largely silent. When I do it, I sit in the back of the room, away from the students, and I avoid eye contact with them. I have a blank notepad in front of me on which I take notes about their discussion. Who is asking the right question at the right moment, redirecting the conversation, correcting misunderstandings, and ensuring that students are being civil to one another? The students are. That’s their job, and I train them over several months to do it. By the middle of the year, they do it very well. I take a perverse pleasure in seeing how irrelevant I am in the classroom when this starts to happen every year around November (after three months of SPIDER Web practice) — the students themselves are far better referees and masters of knowledge than we usually give them credit for (or even allow them to attempt). In my next blog post, I’ll talk more specifically about how I train them, so stay tuned for more detail there if you are interested.”

(For more details on the steps to make the Harkness work over a course of a year please see her excellent guide here.)

I have started to use this format for the past few weeks with mixed success.  My seniors in Economics, who have done a number of Socratic Seminars and graded discussions in their English classes are more proficient. However, my freshman students in World Cultures struggle.

After two particularly poor discussions in one day, I thought about what I need to improve. Below is a brief description of my efforts so far and what I plan on changing. 

I have been using a format of Marzano’s on the line, between the line and beyond the line to prepare students for the Harkness:

READING ON, BETWEEN AND BEYOND THE LINES
1.      Reading on the lines:
DESCRIPTION: What are 3 ideas from the passages above that you think is important for everyone to know during the dialogue:
1.     
 
2.     


3.       

 

2.      Reading between the lines:
DESCRIPTION: QUESTIONS THAT MAKE YOU INTERPRET OR INFER what is in the text.  SAMPLE QUESTION: Why might the author have said that it doesn’t make a difference whether a good comes from your own neighborhood or from India or Germany? Do you agree or disagree?
YOUR BETWEEN THE LINE QUESTION:

 

   3.      Reading beyond the lines:
DESCRIPTION: QUESTIONS THAT MAKE YOU THINK abstractly. The answers are found beyond the lines. Readers move beyond the text to connect to society and the world as a whole past and present.
SAMPLE QUESTION: How are individual & family lifestyles affected by globalization? Is globalization fair?YOUR GROUP’S BEYOND THE LINE QUESTION: 

I have also used Alexis Wiggins rubric which help detail what characteristics I expect students to be able to perform during a discussion.

Both of these resources have been helpful. However, after seeing the questions students prepared before the discussion I realized that this is one source of their struggles. Quite simply, they did not yet know how to produce higher order questions that would lead to engaging discussions. So, I have decided that before we do our next discussion I will model how I would read the text and the types of questions I would generate that could be especially interesting.

I also realized that students were not getting enough specific feedback on what they need to improve. So, after some searching online, I came across a rubric based on Lawrence Smith’s work at Phillips Exeter Academy.  I modified it for my students and plan on having them self-assess after every discussion and following up with individual conferences or notes when time permits.

I am enthralled by the potential Harkness discussions hold for my students! I look forward to refining the model for my classroom and becoming more skilled at developing students’ ability to facilitate.