The new and emerging challenges of literacy in a “fake news” world

“If we define literacy as the ability to read (or interpret) the world around us, then digital literacy should not be thought of as requiring a separate set of skills. Rather, digital literacy ads a layer to traditional literacy, enabling us to read or interpret the connected reality we live in.” (Couros and Hildebrandt, 2017)

But how should we read in our digital world and what should we believe? After I tested myself using the experiment my classmate, Rob Gareau included in his content catalyst, I realized that I was having a hard time differentiating between fake and true information.

One might ask: What is fake news? As Claire Wardle in First Draft describes, fake news can be several things, such as: click bait, authentic content moved to a misleading context, imposter sources designed to look like reliable sources we already know, false information meant to stir outrage, satire or parody, and news that you personally disagree with. Fake news can be created for two different reasons: misinformation, that can be intentional or non-intentional, and disinformation providing inaccurate information intentionally.

As Nancy Smith in her content catalyst points out, the social media platforms play a role in distributing fake news as well. Although social media does not produce any content, it is still responsible for distributing information based on algorithmic and AI dicisions. An algorithm is a set of rules used to rank, filter and organize the content for users based on their actions and preferences. Through feeds, social media influences the information that we see, and they aim to personalize the content for us.

In order for us to be better informed, we need to learn skills to read critically and decipher information. Without fact checking, as Claire Wardle says “we are adding to the pollution of our information ecosystem”. It is crucial to support quality information by being critical of the information we consume.

How can we sort truth from fiction though, when lies and facts are side by side? According to Mike Caulfield a set of skills are needed, such as reading laterally in order to be able to judge websites. Lateral reading is an important piece of digital literacy. In order to acquire this valuable skill, students need to see examples and practice identifying them to be able to find better information and be better informed. My classmate, Christina Patterson, points out in her content catalyst, that just as in teaching literacy where teachers focus on the difference between fiction and non-fiction, students need to be taught the difference between fake news and true information. Canada’s National Observer Guide identifies 5 steps when it comes to spotting fake news:

  1. confirm the source 
  2. check the facts
  3. quality counts 
  4. read before you share
  5. speak up 

Just to name a few, and can also be used for fact checking. Erin Wilkey Oh in The Future of Fake News is encouraging us to teach our students essential questioning as well: Who created this message? Why is this message being sent? Why was it made? Where is the message being distributed? Which techniques are used to attract my attention? Which lifestyles, values and points of view are represented or missing? (Oh, Dec 12, 2017)

Eli Pariser is teaching us to be sceptical and approach everything by questioning its truth. Because of the data literacy and algorithmic literacy curating the world for us, what we see online is “only one slice of the pie and one that’s been cut specifically for you.” Eli Pariser calls this the “filter bubble”, the media world we create where we only see and interact with things and people we already like, causing us to fall into traps all the time because we like when things are comfortable, certain and easy. In order to avoid being “isolated in a web of one” what we need is to see things that are relevant, important, uncomfortable, challenging and other points of view.

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What does it mean to be (media) literate in today’s world?

According to Alberta Education, literacy has traditionally been thought of as reading and writing. Beside the essential components of literacy, our understanding of literacy in today’s world holds within a lot more. Alberta Education defines literacy as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living.

Renee Hobbs describes media literacy “more parallel to literacy: reading and writing in a digital age”.

(Media) Literacy is critical in helping us make sense of the world. As my classmate, Krysta pointed out, in our present days’ information abundance it is very difficult to tell what is reliable information and what is inaccurate, biased and/or opinionated. In order to avoid misinformation, it is important to help our students become media literate.

But what is media literacy? From Daniel Dion’s content catalyst, I learnt that according to Sylvia Duckworth, Digital Literacy is when students know how to use various digital technologies and how to assess legitimacy of web resources. Being media literate means being able to ask important questions. Srividya Kumar refers to it as content curation and crap detection based on four criteria: currency, reliability, authority and purpose/point of view. The ten questions she believes a media literate person should ask are:

  1. How recent is the information?
  2. Is it current enough for the topic?
  3. What kind of information is included in the content?
  4. Is the information meaningful?
  5. Who is the creator or author? What is their expertise on the topic?
  6. Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable?
  7. What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
  8. Is it primarily data or opinion? If it’s the latter, is it balanced?
  9. Does the author provide references or sources for the data or quotations?
  10. Is the creator or author trying to sell you something?

Renee Hobbs in the Media Literacy for the 21st Century: Interview with Renee Hobbs, EdD suggests 5 important competencies: Access (Listening & reading comprehension, hyperlinking, search strategies), Analysis (evaluation), Create and collaborate, Reflect and take action. As my classmates, Brad Raes & Shelby Mackey shared, according to the National Association of Media Literacy, Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication”. “It empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, communicators and active citizens”. According to Commonsense Media, Media literacy helps kids think critically, become smarter consumers of products and information, recognize perspectives, create media responsibly, identify the role media plays in our culture, and understanding the author’s intent of the content. Alina Tugend in the article These Students Are Learning About Fake News and How to Spot It points out the two equally unfortunate outcomes of the inability to judge content: “having people believe everything that suits their preconceived notions, or they cynically disbelieve everything. “Either way leading to a polarized and disengaged citizenry.”

In order to teach student how to critically understand, analyze and evaluate online content, images and stories, research shows that there are two major skills we should direct our attention towards: the first is lateral reading to help determine the authenticity or reliability of the respective site and the second skill is click restraint, focusing on resisting the impulse to click on the first result that appears, until looking at the full list of credibility and then clicking selectively. In my belief, in order to help students get a good understanding and truly develop their crap detection skills, digital literacy and media literacy should be taught throughout all content areas.

Until next time,



For my major project, one of the educational apps I decided to look at is Kahoot! I heard of it during one of the educational technology classes I had taken and I created an account at that time, but never had a chance to use it. I felt that my hands were tied. Teachers working as support staff not always have a classroom which means no access to a projector. Access to devices is quite limited as well, and my time with the students is often very short.

This school year though, I have been offering in-class support as well and I mentioned Kahoot! to one of our grade 7/8 classroom teachers. Him being a connected educator, the access to devices was not an issue any more. So, we were both very excited to give Kahoot! a try.

But what is Kahoot! some might ask? According to Commonsense Media, Kahoot! is an educational app for playing and creating quizzes recommended for ages 8 and up. This 4 star app is definitely worth checking out.

Kahoot! is a safe, fun and engaging formative assessment tool that gives immediate feedback of what areas the participants are struggling with. It is a popular tool used worldwide by teachers, students, employees and life long learners. It can be used in any subject, any language, on any device. Kahoot! can be played as a group or individually anywhere and any time. It can be used to create fun learning games and trivia quizzes. There are also a high number of free, ready to use existing games. For paid members there are more tools to chose from when it comes to creating and organizing these collections of games.

I decided to look into more ways Kahoot! could be used in a classroom. Besides using it for reviewing and reinforcing certain concepts in a classroom setting, it can also be implemented as a class work station, as part of study group or peer-to-peer challenge, as well as for homework. Although it has an option to time the participants’ performance, especially for homework use, it is recommended to have it switched off to prioritize accuracy.

I think Kahoot! is an excellent assessment tool for teachers. After playing a game, I was able to see a detailed analysis of my students’ performance helping me to define if the topic has been acquired by the students or not.

Trying to learn as much as possible about this app, I came across a number of tutorials, one named “learners to leaders”. The focus of “learners to leaders” is to teach students digital communication and collaboration by giving them the role of a teacher when creating their own kahoots. Such an activity empowers students to take ownership of what they are learning through creativity, critical thinking, as well as teamwork leading to digital fluency. An ESL teacher shared an interesting idea where students created “holiday selfie kahoots” about the holidays they celebrate, which could be a great way to teach students about digital etiquette as well.

I am definitely considering upgrading to have access to a wider variety of activities, adding content in between the slides, editing already existing documents, as well as organizing them into folders for the various grammatical content I am teaching to my English as an Additional Language students. This is a valuable tool that I see being useful not only in the classroom but for both blended-, and flipped lessons.

Have you used Kahoot! and how do you feel about this educational app? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you!



The role of schools/teachers in educating digital citizenship

Whenever I think of the role of teachers and schools teaching digital citizenship, Dan Haeslar’s analogy comes to my mind.

Instead of avoiding, blocking or filtering, I feel very strongly about the importance of taking an active role teaching digital citizenship and media literacy to our students. As Mike Ribble describes “Just as you teach your students the rules of society, it is imperative that you teach them the rules of the digital world, and how to be safe and responsible with technology.”

Throughout my reflection, I was focusing on the three major questions my classmate, Leigh highlighted in her last week’s content catalyst.

  1. Why teach digital citizenship?
  2. When to teach digital citizenship?
  3. What needs to be taught?
  • Why teach digital citizenship? According to the Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools, “students are generally proficient at basic use of technology, but are not necessary critical users and lack skills to be safe and responsible online.” As my classmates, Matt Bresciani and Trevor Kerr mentioned, digital citizenship requires participation in a meaningful and responsible way, helping students to move from being a consumer to using it as a communication and collaboration tool (John K. Waters in the article Turning students into good digital citizens).
  • When to teach digital citizenship? If I look at my own children and my students, I don’t think we can start teaching digital citizenship early enough. Children start using technology at a very early age, parents assuming that they are tech savvy just because they are good at “swiping”, which make the adult world overlook the fact that children are actually at risk.
  • What needs to be taught? As a parent and educator, I would love to be able to guide my children and students to become responsible digital citizens who are capable of building and maintaining a positive digital footprint. Teaching Mike Ribble’s 9 elements of digital citizenship in context, through real life examples and experiences would help students learn how to communicate and collaborate in a respectful, meaningful manner. I really like the idea of classrooms having Skype discussions with other classrooms, where students have the opportunity to share ideas as well as comment on each other’s work using the 3C and 1Q method. With the abundance of information, it is also crucial to raise critical thinkers by teaching our children to read laterally. I read with great interest the article Digital Citizenship: reflecting on the role of technology in relation to ourselves, our communities, and the world around us shared by my classmate, Christina Patterson, giving a great example for an authentic learning opportunity where students take something said online, or an issue that they know of or care about, and explore it, taking it to the next level where they discuss the topic in a podcast. The article How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools, shared by Matt and Trevor, brings to our attention how crucial teaching people to think critically and to evaluate all information is.

There are certainly a great amount of valuable information and resources teachers can access to teach digital citizenship. The question is, do we have the time to look for these materials and do we know what to look for? As we see, some schools take educating digital citizenship very seriously. As my classmate, Catherine discussed in her blog post, it all comes down to prioritizing and committing to learning how to use digital tools. I absolutely love her idea, of making digital citizenship into a focus area, just like we do with math and literacy. I also believe that the optional PD sessions might need to become mandatory. Attending PD sessions and having tech savvy co-workers to discuss, offer support and peer tutor would help educators learn what digital citizenship and media literacy are and how to teach them in a meaningful way to help our students develop a complex portrait of a graduate.

Thanks for stopping by,


Digital identity

Going back to 2011, I can see myself checking my emails in an Internet Cafe in a small town in Transylvania. That was my very first online presence. After moving to Canada, I created a Facebook account to be able to stay in contact with my friends and family from home. It was a great way to share pictures and have a sense of belonging. When I became familiar with messenger and Skype, I thought they were the BEST things ever, and they still play an important role in my life. Through messenger, I can stay in touch with my sister living in Hungary, not my parents though, since they cannot see themselves being able to get used to smartphones. But in 2008, they did buy a laptop which makes it possible for us to see each other on Skype. I wish they switched to smartphones so they are not tied to being home connected to their Wifi.

As we can see, it takes time for each generation to make the move and face the embarrassment of not knowing everything. This was exactly what made me apply for the Master’s Certificate Program in Educational Technology. I saw my kids being online, using various devices without knowing what they were doing. As a parent, I felt awkward and unsafe. I knew I needed to become what the Commonsense Media encourages us, parents to be for our children: role models who can teach their children good habits through using online media together, as well as keeping a healthy balance by keeping distractions to a minimum and turning social media off. My question is how can we educators help the parents who are in a position where I was a couple of years ago? With our very high immigrant population, not all parents are familiar with ways of teaching their children how to be responsible digital citizens. Knowing this, the pressure is even higher, that us, educators need to take this very seriously and teach our students how to develop their positive digital identities.

As Matt Bresciani and Trevor Kerr highlighted in their presentation “What role should schools play in teaching digital citizenship?” “Just as you teach your students the rules of society, it is imperative that you teach them the rules of the digital world, and how to be safe and responsible with technology.” – Mike Ribble

Listening to Daina Seymour and Allison Boulanger’s video on digital identity, made me think of the types of my own online identity. Searching my own name actually made me nervous. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. Having a common name made finding information on me a little confusing. Certainly all the Educational Technology classes I have taken from Dr. Alec Couros, made me look at the online world from a different point of view, through a more educated and cautious lens. If anyone looked me up, they would see me as an open identity who shares authentic thoughts. Being a shy person, sharing online, outside of the circle of my friends is definitely out of my comfort zone. I also have the audience identity, using different media platforms, as well as content identity, providing carefully crafted content as part of my Educational Technology classes.

Although I am familiar with both students and adults having multiple accounts within the same platform, I never felt the need for having a spam account. Instagram users often dedicate one account to their business, and have a separate personal account. At the RTC Convention 2019 George Couros asked a classroom teacher for his twitter handle and his reply was “which one: my personal or my teacher one?” George Couros replied: “You should have one twitter handle.” advising people that what happens at a Roughrider’s Game, stays at a Roughrider’s Game. Even when you go to a Roughrider’s Game, with everyone snapping pictures and posting them immediately, you might have to watch what you’re doing. When I hear about the spam accounts, the ‘finsta’ accounts, I think this is like a survival mode. People are trying to create a safe space for themselves, where they can show their true selves without being judged. Can this be truly trusted though, with the option of taking screenshots of everything and re-posting things? So, I personally agree with George Couros on having our main focus on building and keeping a positive online digital identity.