Stanford study is latest LPS effort to teach digital citizenship
Lincoln Public Schools was one of only two school districts in the country to participate recently in a Stanford University research study that gathered classroom feedback about teaching effective online fact-checking skills.
The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) provided six lesson plans on “civic online reasoning” to six LPS high school social studies teachers during second semester of the recent school year. SHEG defines civic online reasoning as “the ability to judge the credibility of the information that floods smartphones, tablets and computer screens.” The lesson plans, through various tasks and exercises, asked students to evaluate information online by answering the following questions:
- Who's behind the information?
- What's the evidence?
- What do other sources say?
Jaci Kellison, LPS K-12 social studies curriculum specialist, said the school district’s participation in the study aligns perfectly with its emphasis on teaching students to be responsible and informed digital citizens. Those efforts, and specifically the civic online reasoning study, represent a collaboration between multiple LPS departments: Curriculum, Assessment, Library Media Services and Computing Services.
“One of the major goals of social studies in Lincoln Public Schools is to create informed and engaged citizens,” Kellison said. “In an age where misinformation can be spread at a rapid rate, the ability to effectively search for and evaluate social and political information online - civic online reasoning - is a critical component of creating a thoughtful and engaged citizenry.”
“The goal is to help students find what they need to think for themselves about online claims,” added Rob McEntarffer, LPS assessment specialist.
One technique stressed as part of effective civic online reasoning is “lateral reading,” which involves opening additional browser tabs to seek context about who is behind the source before scanning the website or online content in question. This contrasts with “vertical reading,” in which people stay locked in on the website in question to evaluate its credibility.
Lincoln Southeast High School social studies teacher Dave Nebel participated in the study with students in his senior Government and Politics course. During one of the lessons this spring, students used lateral reading to assess the credibility of two websites related to malaria. By digging deeper into outside sources, the students easily deduced that one site was a credible non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating malaria, while the other was mainly a way for a physician to sell his health-related products.
“Lateral reading is important if we want to gain perspective,” Nebel told his students. “It almost trains you to avoid the actual source you’re on and move elsewhere.”
Lincoln East High School social studies teacher Michaela Schleicher also participated in the study. She said her students quickly picked up on the methods associated with civic online reasoning, including lateral reading.
“I like the premise of the lessons on civic online reasoning,” she said. “It is valuable to teach students how to be consumers of online information and help them become good digital citizens. This project allows for students to dissect information - not to trick them - but to help educate them on how to process information that they receive.”
Kellison said results from the SHEG study will help inform decisions about LPS curriculum and lesson plans moving forward.
“The teachers who were gracious enough to be a part of this study will play an integral part in determining where and how civic online reasoning is implemented,” she said.
SHEG will use the student feedback from LPS teachers and students, as well as input from a California school district, to develop lesson plans that can be used nationwide beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
Published: June 6, 2019, Updated: June 6, 2019