In a world where everything under the sun can be published to the Web, it is even more important to teach young people to be critical consumers of this information. As Will Richardson points out, “in the era of textbooks…we could be pretty sure that the content we consumed had been checked and edited before being published.”
What’s interesting to me is that even though resources of the past may not have contained errors in grammar, spelling, or “facts”, they quite often had a hidden agenda that no one questioned. What we’re learning today, thanks in great part to the massive amount of information online, is that we should question EVERYTHING, even those resources we thought were above reproach. An example of this unquestioning acceptance is how so many textbooks view history through the eyes of white male America, despite the fact that other races, ethnicities, and genders played a role in shaping the past.
In recognizing this, my teaching has changed drastically. I constantly push students to find multiple sources with differing perspectives so that they can view topics from differing angles before coming to a conclusion. When presenting new material, I also provide multiple viewpoints so that students must consider their own views in relation to others when forming an opinion.
The Web has made finding opposing source material much easier, and this has helped me to become a better teacher in regard to critical thinking and media literacy. Every time we dive into a new source, our first questions are always:
- For whom was this published? Who is the intended audience?
- Is the source credible/reliable?
- What is the tone of the source? Is it factual/emotional/funny/satirical…?
- Can we find additional material to corroborate this? To contradict this?
Technology has aided in making this shift, since resources have taken on greater variety and breadth. We are now able to consider source material that is not just print material. In addition, we can pair different sources (print, tabular, video, audio, visual/art, etc.) to engage different types of learners and to make meaning through various media.
While my online course hasn’t exactly changed how I teach, it has highlighted the need to include media literacy skills in instruction with a more direct, transparent focus. As I proceed in my career as a German teacher, I feel that technology will continue to provide students with impulses that require discernment and analysis. By learning how to do this, they will be able to make sense of the world around them and to arrive at informed, educated conclusions.