Digital Literacy: Discovering the Truth About Online Sources

Determining whether a source is authoritative or not is essential for anyone who wants to learn fact from fiction. It’s especially important for anyone who uses the internet as one of their main sources of information.

Our students are learning this skill early. Lower School Library Media Specialist Emily Woodward created a Digital Literacy Unit, designed to teach her Grade 5 students how to look at data they find on websites and discern whether or not it’s trustworthy.

“I wanted to show the students that just because something looks nice online, doesn’t mean it’s telling them the truth. It’s so important when they’re out there using Google to get answers that they understand information literacy and can be discerning searchers,” said Woodward.

The Digital Literacy Unit lasts about 6 weeks. Students collect data about how they answer questions and find out information. They review a ‘website report card,’ which helps them identify key points (if it has an author, date published, a lot of advertising, etc.) to watch for when determining validity. They also look at a fake website and learn about web-addresses and urls and what domain names mean (.com, .org, .gov).

For their final project, students used their newfound skills to actually put a website on trial.

Students chose partners and were given a website and a side, with two students acting as prosecution and two as defense. They were pretending to be paid lawyers, so even if they didn’t agree with the side they were given, the students needed to find aspects of the website that fit their argument and build upon that. They were given one of the website report cards and two weeks for prep time.

Before trial the students went over the rules of the courtroom: each side had three minutes to build a case. First the prosecution presented before a judge, a student chosen randomly by Woodward, about why their assigned website was untrustworthy. The defense then presented their argument about why it is authoritative. The prosecution had a chance for rebuttal. The judge then made her official ruling.

The goal is to prepare students for projects and research papers they’ll tackle in Middle School, Upper School, college and beyond. Current Grade 6 student Daria discussed her experience with last year’s project: “We learned a lot last year but I think that a good activity was when we were able to be supporting a website and criticizing one. We got to act like lawyers and write speeches. The skill of recognizing a good or bad website is a great one not only to use in school but outside of school too!” said Daria.