This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At the end of 2016, an NPR report examined a recent study by Stanford's Graduate School of Education about how teens and young adults evaluated online sources of information. The results were surprising and unsettling.
According to the study, more than 80 percent of middle-schoolers believed that paid advertiser content was a real news story. When asked to verify the source of a picture, students didn't research the content. They simply accepted the picture as truth. Students also failed to examine bias or political agenda in ads, and in one exercise more than half of the students thought the article from the suspect and biased organization was more reliable than a well-established organization.
One researcher from the study said, "Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. ... Our work shows the opposite."
The ability to evaluate information is an essential part of digital citizenship the appropriate and responsible use of technology. The 21st century skills in digital citizenship are more important now than ever. The recent election results attest to this. In the last three months of the 2016 presidential election, fake news sources had more engagement than real sources.
The implications in evaluating information online goes beyond politics, affecting college and career, health, relationships and more. When students have the ability to discern information, they have a great ability to influence the world around them in a positive way.
Utah is one of a few states that has a law around digital citizenship. The Safe Utilization and Digital Citizenship in Public Schools (HB213) asks charter school governing boards or school community councils to fulfill certain duties related to digital citizenship. In 2017 Utah will be hosting the National Digital Citizenship Summit.
Despite legislation like HB213 and work by other organizations, many students still lack basic media literacy skills. In addition, most Utah school districts don't have qualified teacher-librarians in elementary schools, and those in secondary schools have many responsibilities that take them away from teaching.
Developing the critical thinking skills needed to navigate our information-saturated landscape requires collective effort with schools, government, nonprofits, business and more. Utah is paving the way in the conversation on digital citizenship, and other states are looking to us.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is an information professional, educator and founder of Digital Respons-Ability.