Teaching Digital Literacy This Election Season

As disinformation about the 2020 election continues to spread, these resources can help you teach students about evaluating sources, recognizing "fake news" and becoming critical consumers of online information.
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Mary Kate McDevitt

With facts around the 2020 election still being debated, the need for digital literacy is more important than ever. We’ve compiled some of our favorite digital literacy resources here for navigating and discussing current events, how news is reported and how to recognize misinformation—and stop its spread. 

Below you’ll find educator- and student-facing resources for teaching digital literacy. These include our podcast The Mind Online, hosted by TT’s Managing Editor Monita Bell, which helps educators better understand and teach about our increasingly important digital lives. We’re also recommending lesson plans from the Teaching Tolerance Digital Literacy Framework for both middle and high school grades. And we’ve included a small collection of student-friendly videos. Featuring Senior Writer Cory Collins, these short videos break down complex topics like fake news and search algorithms. 

Finally, since the need for digital literacy won’t end on Election Day, we’ve included further resources and recommendations. We’re grateful to all the educators working to help students become more confident, competent digital citizens. We hope you find these resources useful!

For Finding Information and Evaluating Sources

Fake News: Finding It, Fighting It” | The Mind Online

Do your students know how to identify fake news? In this episode of The Mind Online, MediaWise’s Katy Byron discusses teaching students how to determine what’s real on the internet. In the second half of the episode, cognitive psychologist and professor Gordon Pennycook explores the reasons why people believe things that aren’t true.

Media Manipulation” | The Mind Online

In this episode, Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer explains how falsehoods and conspiracy theories can make their way from the fringes of the internet and on to the major networks and why that’s dangerous. Later, Melissa Ryan, author of the “Ctrl Alt-Right Delete” newsletter, breaks down the intricate and intimidating organizing of online groups, including how seemingly innocuous comments on message boards can be a slippery slope to radicalization.

Analyzing How Words Communicate Bias” and “Evaluating Online Sources” | Teaching Tolerance Lessons

With many elected leaders increasingly espousing false information and presenting their opinions with facts, locating and verifying reliable sources of information is a critical skill for students. Lesson plans for both middle and high school will help students identify biases, recognize common errors in reasoning and separate fact from opinion. They will also gain a more critical eye for their own writing and how they themselves communicate information. 

How Does Fake News Become News?” | Classroom Video

With reports of social media spreading false information on everything from the coronavirus to voting rights (and that information being rapidly reshared), the ability to trace a claim to its source and determine its validity is critical. This classroom-ready video breaks down the ways misinformation can spread from corners of the internet—random websites, social media accounts with just a few followers—to national news sites.

For Discussing Online Discourse and Civic Engagement

Digital Literacy and Youth Civic Engagement” | The Mind Online

Social media and online spaces can be places where discrimination, hate and disinformation thrive. But they can also be places where communities organize to effect real positive change—on and offline. In this episode, University of California Riverside professors Erica Hodgin and Joe Kahne discuss how educators can weave digital literacy into their instruction to give students the tools to use their online social skills and apply them to civics and activism. 

Civic Engagement and Communication as Digital Community Members” and “Constructively Engaging in Digital Communities” | Teaching Tolerance Lessons

Just this year, young people have taken to the internet and to the streets to organize protests against police brutality, lead voter registration drives, support community members struggling as a result of COVID-19, and advocate for social justice causes large and small. To help empower your students, you can use these middle- and high school lessons to engage them in digital communities. Then you can help your students take what they’ve learned to translate digital literacy skills into civic action.

Countering Online Hate Speech” | Classroom Video

The internet can be a wonderful tool, but some people use it to harass others, spread anger and incite hateful content. The rhetoric coming from hate groups, commentators and some politicians this election cycle has been more than troublesome, but your students can push back. This video breaks down strategies, tips and tools for your students to be able to spot—and interrupt—hate speech when it appears online. 

For Teaching About Filter Bubbles and Algorithms

Did You Google It?” | The Mind Online

Students likely already know that they can’t trust everything they read online. But they may not know that it’s not just the content of online sources that’s biased, but even the type and number of sources available to them. In this episode, Professor Safiya Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, discusses how algorithms shape the search results we see—and why students need to understand that things like search results or auto-complete work to transmit or reinforce bias. Later, Heidi Beirich of the SPLC explains how far-right groups can use these algorithms to their advantage. 

Understanding and Evaluating Online Searches” and “Understanding How Digital Information Comes to You” | Teaching Tolerance Lessons

There is not just bias in how news articles are written or present information, but in the way search engines and websites direct us to information they want us to see. In these lessons for both middle and high school, students will take a deep dive into understanding search engine algorithms, including how data is sorted, indexed and presented. The rapid pace of news, especially during the weeks leading up to the election, along with media outlets competing for views and clicks, make these skills critical for students. 

How to Balance Your Media Diet” | Classroom Video

Did you know that according to a reliable source, elephants no longer enjoy eating peanuts? Never mind what that source is; it was reported by a news anchor online, which is all that matters, right? Wrong! In this video, Cory Collins uses humor and real-world examples to explain why it’s important to recognize and balance the content of—and the worldview behind—the information we consume. 

Additional Resources

Digital literacy will remain important beyond the upcoming election. You and your students need tools to be able to navigate the digital landscape with a critical eye to be able to discern fact from fiction and to unleash the potential of the web as a tool for civic engagement. The TT Digital Literacy Framework can help you support students as they learn to navigate the internet and digital technologies and think critically about the information we consume online. Here are some additional resources to guide your practice.

The Teaching Tolerance Digital Literacy Framework

Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy

“Teaching Digital Literacy” | Webinar

“Fake News and Teachable Moments” | Article

Tobin is a teaching and learning specialist at Teaching Tolerance.

The Future Voters Project

Looking for more resources to help you teach about the election? Check out Teaching Tolerance’s Future Voters Project!