People often say we’re living in the age of information, but as someone who works in education, I think it would be more accurate to say we’re living in the age of misinformation. Our media landscape is littered with content that is exaggerated, skewed, or in many cases, outright false. From news sites that suffer from bias narratives to baseless rumors that go viral on social platforms, sifting out the truth has become a full-time job, and this can be especially challenging for students. Many of our students spend an inordinate amount of time on sites like TikTok or YouTube, and as such, it’s important that we teach them how to navigate these platforms responsibly. But where do we even begin?

The bad news is that there is no easy solution to this problem. Developing media literacy takes time and practice. Students will need to be taught discipline and exercise their critical thinking skills if they’re to become responsible consumers of information. The good news is that these skills aren’t limited to social media. By teaching students how to effectively analyze information, we won’t just be teaching them to navigate the internet safely, we’ll also be fostering a growth mindset for all areas of education.

Taking the First Steps

To get started, consider introducing your class to the TRAAP protocol. This simple acronym asks students to consider five important questions about every piece of information they encounter. By applying this technique to media consumption, students will become better at recognizing misinformation when it’s presented to them. The TRAAP protocol stands for:

  • Timely: How timely is the information they’re ingesting? Older sources can be misinformed or contain ideas which have since been proven false. A recent source usually has the most up-to-date information and ideas.
  • Relevance: Look for sources that are directly related to your topic and clearly discuss their information. Sources which only mention your topic in passing will probably not examine them in much depth.
  • Authority: What are the author’s qualifications? If the author is known and considered an expert, then there’s a good chance they know what they’re talking about. If the author is unknown, or doesn’t have a background in the subject, they should be treated with more scrutiny.
  • Accuracy: It’s easy to make assertions, but are they backed up with facts? All good sources should be backed up with citations to other reliable sources. A lack of citations should be a warning sign to any discerning student.
  • Purpose: It’s important that students ask themselves what this source is trying to accomplish. Is it trying to sell them something? Was it produced by a company or organization which may have a vested interest in perpetuating a particular worldview? If so, it should probably be treated with more skepticism. A good resource should be based on facts, not opinions.

Further Practice

If you found the TRAAP protocol helpful, be sure to check out the Blue Apple Timely Topic, Information Nation. Consisting of four free lessons, students will learn more techniques for practicing information literacy while putting their skills to the test through a variety of fun games. The internet can be a confusing place, but with a little help, your class can learn to be responsible consumers of information while helping others to do the same. It may take a little work to accomplish, but discovering the truth is always a goal worth pursuing!

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