What is digital literacy and what’s it got to do with fake news?

As London CLC announces a new digital literacy collaboration with First News and the Guardian Foundation, and a free CPD session for teachers, Peter Lillington explores what exactly literacy means in a digital world.

Digital literacy has become something of a buzz phrase. At first appearances its meaning seems obvious but it is frequently used in different ways and contexts.  The National Curriculum Computing Programme of Study document published in 2013 suggests that:

“Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through, information and communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world”.

The idea of being discerning ie making a judgment based on signs, indications or evidence is something that is implicit or explicit in many curriculum areas, but it is specifically mentioned in computing at key stage 2:

Be discerning in evaluating digital content

This overlaps with other definitions, whether of media literacy or information literacy. But how is “be discerning” of any practical use in the classroom? And how can we hope to provide some kind of remedy for the worrying key findings in the recent National literacy Trust Fake News Commission, which found that:

  • Only 2% of children have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake.
  • Half of children (49.9%) are worried about not being able to spot fake news.
  • Two-thirds of children (60.6%) now trust the news less as a result of fake news.
  • Two-thirds of teachers (60.9%) believe fake news is harming children’s well-being, increasing their anxiety levels.
  • Half of teachers (53.5%) believe that the national curriculum does not equip children with the literacy skills they need to identify fake news.

We think there is an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and digital literacy across many national curriculum subjects and that, in our rush to impart content and facts, we sometimes miss an opportunity.

As Professor Rose Luckin of UCL’s Knowledge Lab, puts it,

We don’t need everyone to know what happened in 1066, we do need them to know how to find that out and to make judgements about whether what we are being told about 1066 is true or not.”

The recently published Framework for a Connected World from the UK Council for Child Internet Safety is not statutory guidance but it is a solid piece of work that many subject associations have worked together on and we recommend you take a look. It provides ‘I can statements’ across eight different aspects of online education from relationships and reputation to privacy and security, that may help you to make more meaningful links.

In the ‘Managing online information’ section, the ‘I can’ statements for seven to 11-year-olds include:

I can explain key concepts including: data, information, fact, opinion belief, true, false, valid, reliable and evidence.

I understand the difference between online mis-information (inaccurate information distributed by accident) and dis-information (inaccurate information deliberately distributed and intended to mislead).

I can explain what is meant by ‘being sceptical’. I can give examples of when and why it is important to be ‘sceptical’.

These have been core topics of our popular ‘fake news’ workshops. In those workshops, through discussion, we encourage children to learn to question what they see – whether it’s a photoshopped image or an unofficial website  pretending to be the ‘real’ one – and start to unpick the layers of truth and reliability they come across online. A key feature of our workshops is enabling children to create their own spoof news stories using HTML, demonstrating just how easy it is to publish something that can look convincing.

Free digital literacy CPD session for KS2 teachers on 10 October

At London CLC we are delighted and excited to be part of a newly formed News Literacy network. This week founding members of that group – the Guardian Foundation, National Literacy Trust and PSHE Association – launched NewsWise, while the National Literacy Trust already have many useful resources and are publishing further resources – more on that soon.

We have teamed up with another member organisation of the group, the very successful children’s newspaper First News. First News’s head of education Nicolette Smallshaw and the London CLC team are jointly offering a free workshop at London CLC’s HQ in Clapham on 10 October for teachers.

Alongside digital literacy we want to enable children and young people to develop a deeper understanding of where news comes from and how reputable news providers take great care to present news accurately – not all sources online are equal! And, of course, not all news is fake news.

Participants will receive a pack of resources and assets to use back in school, and we will give advice on the digital aspects of creating a front page in the classroom. Find out more about the workshop and book your place.

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