It has been years since we've kept up with the world around us by reading the local paper over breakfast in the morning and watching the national news on television in the evening. The last two decades have seen an explosion of outlets churning out millions of words, pictures, video and audio 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
These unfettered communication platforms present both enormous opportunities and great challenges. Billions of streaming bytes circle the globe, blurring news and opinion, fact and fiction, valuable information and hoaxes. The recent furor over "fake news" and its possible impact on the 2016 presidential election has focused attention on these issues and accelerated the urgency for solutions.
Last May, the News Literacy Project (NLP), a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, introduced its checkology™ virtual classroom — an online platform that is the culmination of its experiences in providing classroom, after-school, and digital news literacy lessons over the last eight years to 25,000 students in middle schools and high schools in New York City, Chicago, Houston, and the Washington, D.C., area.
The virtual classroom—described by the first educator trained on it as "a dream come true for teachers"—enables NLP's news literacy lessons to be taught in any location, in the U.S. and around the world, that has an internet connection. Since its introduction in May 2016, more than 6,000 educators who teach more than 615,000 students throughout the United States and in 44 other countries have registered to use the platform. You can see the worldwide adoption of the platform on this map and see the schools that are using it.
News literacy teaches that all information is not created equal. It helps young people use the aspirational standards of quality journalism to determine what they should trust, share and act on—especially important because many get their news not from traditional outlets, but from social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. They need to understand these standards because they are increasingly contributing to the wider conversation: In an age of unparalleled access, in which unprecedented amounts and types of information can be shared with one quick click, anyone can be a publisher—and everyone must be an editor. NLP was the antidote to "fake news" long before anyone coined the term.
The virtual classroom's 12 core lessons, which take between 15 and 20 hours to complete, can be incorporated in a variety of areas, including social studies, history, government, English/language arts, and journalism classes. Journalists from BuzzFeed News, Bloomberg, NBC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post are joined by experts on the First Amendment and digital media as virtual teachers.
The platform incorporates many of the best practices in e-learning, including self-pacing, personalization, blended and experiential learning, rich formative assessment, teacher feedback and remediation, points and digital badges, and a class discussion area where students share and comment on work, reflect on key questions and initiate their own conversations about the news and information they encounter in their daily lives.
Maria Tarasuk, the social studies supervisor for the Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Schools, called the virtual classroom "fabulous." She said, "I really like how relevant and current the examples are, as well as the constantly changing [and] engaging formats."
Dee Burek, a journalism teacher at Stone Bridge Middle School in Allentown, New Jersey, was equally effusive. "Adolescents are connected to social media and rarely question the validity of what they read," she said after completing a pilot of the platform in the fall. "They are bombarded with information and have few skills to sift through it all."
"The checkology™ virtual classroom has empowered my students. Their critical-thinking skills have improved. They will leave my class with knowledge that is desperately needed to survive in today's world."
Alan C. Miller is president/CEO of The News Literacy Project: How to Know What to Believe.
Published March 2017.