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The 14th International Scientific Conference

eLearning and Software for Education


Bucharest, April 19-20, 2018
10.12753/2066-026X-18-000

TACKLING FAKE NEWS IN A DIGITAL LITERACY CURRICULUM

Laura Malita, Gabriela Grosseck


West University of Timisoara, Romania
laura.malita@e-uvt.ro, gabriela.grosseck@e-uvt.ro

Abstract: We are living in a society where digital have made headlines in the area of education over the
last years. The use of different devices and applications turn us into both consumers of digital
information and producers of a digital content. However, the consumption and the production of
information is not always done in a responsible, professional and proper manner. Therefore, digital
media skills became more important than ever and should be thought and learnt both in non-formal and
informal way. Also, a special attention must be paid by schools and universities.
When it comes on teaching and learning about digital media, our approach is media literacy focused on
the resilience’s perspective, underlying the perspective of content creation and dissemination of
information, too. In this eco-system, we see media literacy as a combination of digital, social and
cognitive skills where digital media literacy has as major role to help people to avoid becoming victims
of “fake news” and disinformation.
Thus, the main aim of this paper is two-fold:
 to investigate the students’ awareness regarding the increasing phenomenon of so called “fake
news”. In this respect we applied an online questionnaire addressing their habits and practices
when they have been encountered such doubtful content. As results, we present some
recommendations and good practices on how to avoid such content, to critically read, interpret
and curate the online content but also to re-edit, re-produce and re-purpose the content in a
correct way, given due recognition to originators and
 to explore the digital media policies of the Romanian universities consortium, from where West
University of Timisoara is taking part, regarding the usage and production of media content by
students, teachers and administrative staff.
Our finding suggests that more concentrated actions should be addressed. Therefore, this paper could
be a starting point of further measures and recommendation for the near future.
This article is based on the report the authors present at IC4E conference, 4-5 February 2018, Sydney.

Keywords: digital media; media literacy; students; teachers; academics; Romanian universities.

I. INTRODUCTION

Through history, media was a powerful force in the lives of people. Nowadays, as we are
leaving in a world where technologies are ubiquitous, where “digital products and services are
transforming industries, enriching lives, and propelling progress” [9], a direct consequence is the fact
that people around the world are increasingly exposed to media. In this “context of development and
expansion of an increasingly digital society, the media evolves even digitally” [14]. The traditional
forms of media such as broadcasted (television, radio, music, movies/cinema) and printed
(newspapers, magazines, books, signs, billboards) co-exist with new form of media accessible through
digital artefacts like websites, blogs, wikis, mobile apps, email, podcasts, social networks, streaming
video or music, etc. [2] On the other hand, different type of media (paid, owned, rented, earned) is also
curated digitally, no matter of the type of content: video (interviews, demos, tutorials, talks, live
streaming etc.), audio (podcasts, audiobooks, music, soundtracks, interviews etc.), slides
(presentations, cases studies, e-books etc.), graphics (infographics, research, memes, storyboards,
timelines etc.). Therefore, the explosion of different types of media means people are becoming
increasingly media consumers. Year by year, in the specifically related literature, we can see statistics
and reports that bring forward people’s exposure to media content for different categories: age, social,
economic, educational or geographical background. Moreover, if we are referring only to the last two
years, media consumption around the world was continuously covered through analysis and scientific
highlights by specialized institutions and statistics portals like Eurostat, Web Economic Forum,
Statista, American Pew Research Centers, Common Sense Media or The Digital Media and Learning
Research Hub [3].
However, a digital society means active citizens, critically engaged through digital sources
and technologies, in order to create quality digital content. Therefore, the media education is more
important than ever. Besides, how people are engaged and assess critically todays media is a process
of continuous learning of media literacy skills – in other words, there is a need of lifelong learning
media education.

II. MEDIA EDUCATION DEFINITIONS


Defining media education is not a simple task. According to [1], [8] several definitions of
media literacy/media education evolved over time worldwide:
 In 1989 the Ontario Ministry of Education defined media education as an aid for “helping
students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of mass media, the
techniques used by them and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education
that aims to increase students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they
produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality. Media literacy also
aims to provide students with the ability to create media products." [13] A decade later (2010),
Canadian Teachers’ Federation defines media education as “the process through which
individuals become media literate-able to critically understand the nature, techniques, and
impacts of media messages and productions.”
 The American National Association for Media Literacy Education [11] suggests several
definitions such as: “a constellation of life skills that are necessary for full participation in our
media-saturated, information-rich society”; “the study of media, including ‘hands-on’
experiences and media production” or “the educational field dedicated to teaching the skills
associated with media literacy.”
 The European Commission stress that “media literacy refers to all the technical, cognitive,
social, civic and creative capacities that allow us to access and have a critical understanding of
and interact with media. These capacities allow us to exercise critical thinking while
participating in the economic, social and cultural aspects of society and playing an active role in
the democratic process.”
 In the meantime, in Asia media literacy is seen as “a life skill which enables young people to
critically understand, analyze, use and influence the media” [7].
Instead of defining the term we consider more important to understand the nuances: media
education is the “process of teaching and learning about media” whilst media literacy is the “outcome
of this process, with the knowledge and skills learners acquire” [13]. Another important clarification
that should be done is that media literacy/education often overlap with other forms of literacy (Figure
1), especially with information and digital literacy (Figure 2).
Moreover, under the umbrella term of media literacy, [12] purpose that one can integrate the
context (social, educational, commercial), the content (knowledge, insights, skills, attitudes) and the
actors involved (academics, policymakers, developers).

III. WHY IS MEDIA EDUCATION NECESSARY?


We live in a society in which information is easier to access by the citizens than ever before.
For children, teenagers or students, media constitutes a major component of their social and cultural
environment. Although they are exposed to an abundance of information application and technologies,
how to cope with these digital “assets” and use them to cross properly the bridge between the personal
and academic use is often taken for granted [10]. Unfortunately, most of them don’t know (and need to
learn) how to integrate a proper use of media in their daily lives and how to appropriate blend the
digital know-how and academic practices and curriculum in order to success in any chosen
occupation. A step ahead was accomplished by UNESCO by providing a curriculum framework for
media and information literacy [5].

Figure 1 The Angela Feekery Information Literacy Model (2017)


source: https://informationliteracyspaces.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/the-feekery-information-literacy-model/

Figure 2. The 7 elements model of Digital Literacy


source: JISC (2014), https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-digital-literacies

Thus, in the Media and Information Literacy curriculum developed by UNESCO [5]
recommended that there is a need to help develop teachers’ understanding of “how media and
information literacy might be utilized in the school curriculum. They must be able to critically assess
media texts and information sources in the light of the functions attributed to news media and other
information providers. And for that purpose, to select a wide range of material from media and
information resources”. They must have skills to assess students’ understanding of Media and
Information Literacy.
Moreover, “Teachers must know and understand how media and other information providers
have evolved into present forms. They must develop skills in using available technologies to reach
different audiences, from print-based media to new media. They must be able to use various media and
information resources to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and extend these to their
students.” [5]
In other words, “being media literate becomes vital for young people to wisely interact” [6],
integrate and engage within a changing society. As such, our role as educators is to teach students at
least a certain degree of media literacy, necessary to use media appropriately in order to become active
and responsible digital citizens.

IV. METHODOLOGY
1.1 Objectives and questions
The purpose of this study was to gather information on ways in which students perceive what
fake news are and to identify their habits and practices when they have encountered such doubtful
content. To ensure this objective is met, the following research questions were proposed:
 How students perceive and understand the concept of doubtful content (clickbaits
headlines, false or biased information online, deceptive advertising, satirical websites
etc.)?
 How well the students can research? Do they know how to evaluate such information? Do
they distinguish between real and fake news? What are they research skills and abilities?
 Is there a need for training the students on this topic?

1.1 Method
For collecting the necessary information, we conducted a short online questionnaire,
publicized via our learning management system to our first-year bachelor students from
Communication Studies and Psychology specializations. Data collecting was performed between the
end of October and the beginning of December 2017, with 250 respondents/answers, after validation.
By gender 39 are male (15.6%) and 211 females (84.4%).
1.2 Summary of the findings
On a scale from 1 to 5 (“Not at all important” “Slightly Important” “Important” “Fairly
Important” and “Very Important” ), we asked students to rate the importance of the new content that
arise on the Internet, taken into consideration the following criteria: the lack of access for certain
countries / people; the censorship of information; the control upon personal data; lack of transparency,
overabundance of information and doubtful content.

Figure 3. How are you seeing the fake news and misinformation context?
Almost all students are aware by the new problems that they face/confront on the Internet,
with 121 declaring the access of online content as is important (121) or very important (101). Half of
student (118) believe that a crucial factor regarding the credibility of online content sources is related
with censorship, while 110 thinks as important the suppression of words, public communication or
other ideas or information (Figure 3). However, almost all students (205) agree that the data control is
a sensitive issue, rather a matter of trust, desiring a way how to know to handle they personal data. The
lack of transparency is seeing important or very important by 191 students, while 57 don’t think we
need to be transparent in an online environment.
Of the total number of students, 112 think of information overload as a difficulty of
understandings issues and making decisions, while 58 indicate that too much information and sources
are the real problem (not just fake news).
Although, our students have the tendency to adapt the most things in a digital manner, a high
number of students (91.6% responses) indicates as an alarming fact they don’t know how to spot the
fake news or other doubtful content from the real one.
The greatest percentage is that of students who recognize certain characteristic of fake news
are resident in the online medium (Figure 4). Only a small number (54) point out toward the traditional
channels media.
Off the 250 respondents, 58.8% said they can identify red flag (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Where do you think the incidence of false / (partially) incorrect news is higher?

The survey also includes open-ended questions, asking respondents to identify the type of the
doubtful content encountered. Overall, the most of their responses for ‘Yes’ can be included into one
of these categories:
 Fake news about dead, but alive celebrities
 Clickbait
 Fake news about some buzzwords and other hot topics
 Fake news about gossips
 Misleading content

Figure 5. Have you encountered fake news and/or Figure 6. How do you "analyze" a source that
misinformation/misleading content? seems problematic to you?
At the question “Who do you think gains from the spread of these types of incorrect (partially)
news/information?” the opinions expressed by participants for those who take advantage can be
clustered in the following types:
 Those who are seeking attention
 Those who are benefitting financially
 Press/Media that are seeking for audience / “premieres”
 Those who are trying to manipulate people/information
while those who “can suffer” are the content’s “consumers” or those that are losing their
reputation and credibility.
Overall, 66.7% of respondents verify the legitimacy of information by checking the source
while 24.9% said that they can distinguish beyond “fake or real” by looking at some “visual” elements
of the page/website (Figure 6). Only 6.9% students may come to conclude that news is true by
checking the URL.
On our study we learned that 6.9% of students do a poor job of recognizing fake news (Figure
7). This underscores why it is essential to help students hone their abilities to discern/distinguish truth
from fiction.
A majority of students (79.9%) often base the value of an article through other sites (for
example different search engines) and only 13.2% look for a seconded trusted opinion.

Figure 7. What do you do if you think a site may Figure 8. What types of sites do you know that could
contain incorrect news/information? help to cross-check?

Students use for evaluating the sources’ reliability different sites like Snopes, FactCheck or the
Romanian media site Hotnews.ro. Unfortunately, half of them (50.3%) don’t know about this
possibility.
Furthermore, we asked students if they know some other tools helping them to spot fake news.
We made a list with the well-known present tools and apps and browser extensions, including Fake
News Alert for Chrome, BS Detector for Firefox and Safari, This is Fake for Facebook feed etc. A
significant percent (39.2%) mentioned none of these while 21.2% didn’t know there are such
resources.

Figure 9. What browser extensions do you use?


V. DISCUSSIONS
There is a need to identify and evaluate ways to avoid fake news in social and academic
settings, teaching digital literacy is required, at every age.
Our findings suggest that student’s ability to evaluate the online content ‘bleak” based on the
following:
 Only by looking at initiatives, programmes, good practices and/or examples from around the
world it is not enough in order to foster media literacy/education across Romanian curriculum.
 In the equation of using media as a learning tool, that includes terms like media education,
media literacy, teachers and curriculum, the main role is carried by teachers. Are they prepared
to teach students toward understanding how and why people engage with media, how to make
sense of what they consume and how on long-term individuals are affected by their “digital
media consumption”, how to spot the fake from real? Such measurement of teachers’ media
literacy is difficult and instruments for measuring teachers’ competencies in the field of media
education are very rare, quite a few [15]. In this respect, one goal of our research was to develop
and apply a survey to teachers at a national scale. We are in the process of analyzing data
(subject of a future paper). Our analysis is based on [4] work about the curriculum of media
literacy education.
 Some preliminary findings range from the resistance of the administrative bodies (such as
Ministry of Education, the National Educational Sciences Institution, etc.), overloaded
curriculum in the classroom to the lack of a proper initial and continuing training for teachers,
the development of the critical thinking towards the media or the development of high-level
research and curriculum proposals. We also want to highlights the fact in Romania an important
milestone is an effective teaching and learning at all levels and should reflect a sophisticated
understanding of the subject matter, instructional and assessment practices.

VI. INSTEAD OF CONCLUSION


It is a reality that media education has become an important player among any discipline
across the curriculum. There are some countries with a major development in this direction, some that
are in the process of introduction media education across the curriculum and most of the countries still
struggling with the whole process/ecosystem of media, digital and also information literacy in
education. Therefore, more concrete steps should be done in this direction because only by an
integrated and functional ecosystem of actors involved (academics, policymakers, developers etc.) and
also the main target group – students, we can hope in the near future more concrete outcomes (media,
digital and information literacy) to be made visible and effective in the national education systems and
across the whole curriculum. Moreover, as media evolves continuously national related media
education syllabuses should be revised and updated. These are Romanian Higher education system
further steps to be made in the next years.

Acknowledgements
This work was partially supported by a grant of the ERASMUS+, 575370-EPP-1-2016-1-RO-EPPJMO-
MODULE.

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