IATEFL 2018: English teaching in the post-truth era – James Taylor

My first session for Wednesday is James’s talk about English teaching in the post-truth era, conveniently located in the same room as my own talk which was in the first slot of the day. 

This isn’t about teaching students to think, or teaching them politics or make them think like us. It’s is, however, useful, to provide them with tools to enable them to interact with this media in a way that they can make informed decisions.

In 2016 a survey showed that 44% of American adults get their news from Facebook. So adults are mainly sharing these stories around without questioning them. They are just as much in need of these tools as young people. People make assumptions, put 2 and 2 together and make 10. (Or, daisies + mutations = Fukashima) In a study using the mutated daisies image was so powerful that the source was ignored. 40% students argued that the post provided strong evidence because it was taken near the power plant.

Distinguishing what is true from what is not true is an important skill. Exposing fake news, being aware that there is fake news, is key. In the future, we may see videos created of people saying things that they have never said – technologically becoming possible. So the issue that we find with images and text will be seen with videos too.

Key skills for identifying fake news

  • ability to discriminate between a trusted and an unreliable source. Need to be able to step back and make judgements, questioning the reliability.
  • need to be able to recognise when verification is necessary (not enough time to do it All The Time)
  • internet literacy (URLS, links, About section, date of publication) If there are no links, it’s a red flag, why isn’t it linking to another source of information. If there is no information about who is behind the site, historical background, author background/qualification to talk about the subject. Something true 10 years ago may not still be true now.
  • recognising bias – essential for reacting critically rather than taking something at face value
  • Finding a source – finding original source material to find out what was actually said (e.g. in reporting of scientific studies)
  • Cross-checking against other sources
  • Using fact-checkers (lots of good ones online e.g. Snopes)
  • Identifying satire e.g. The Onion, fake, meant to be fake, meant to be funny, not meant to be read as truth. Need to be able to identify jokes!
  • Preventing confirmation bias – i.e. ignoring all the things that go against what you believe. We tend to look for reassurance/to have our opinions backed up. But that creates the echo chamber and you lose access to the truth.

[This is exactly the kind of thing we try to teach our students to help them find good sources for their academic writing! We call it source evaluation. Though not the last three in this list.]

There are lots of resources to help with this. I suggest you look through James’s blog post for these

As English teachers how do we see ourselves? Are we grammar and vocab delivery systems or can we do more than that? We don’t have a subject (e.g. history), we can talk about anything we like. So we can work on these kind of skills in the classroom while teaching language.

 

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