‘Fake News,’ Media Literacy Become Business Opportunities in Rush to Educate Students

A United Kingdom-based company is bringing its online daily news service for K-12 students to the U.S. with hopes of boosting critical thinking and media literacy.

The DayUSA arrives in America at a time when calls of “fake news” often make it difficult for students—and adults—to determine which news outlets to trust and what facts to believe.

The digital news service is being distributed exclusively by education services provider Follett, and has been operating in the U.K. since 2011. About 1,500 secondary schools access The DayUK, reaching about 750,000 teens a day, according to Richard Addis, chairman and editor in chief of The Day.

“Fake news now means anything you don’t agree with. People are confused,” said Addis, who has had a long career as a journalist and previously served as the weekend editor for the London-based Financial Times. “The Day is a way to help young people…rediscover trust in the media and to teach them to think for themselves.”

Alternative Perspectives, Not Alternative Facts

The DayUSA has its own staff of journalists who write short articles on topics that fit into nearly every subject area, from science to the arts and social studies. The articles are written specifically for students of varying literacy and age levels. The DayUSA is aimed at middle and high school students, and The DayUSA Explorer is geared toward elementary school students. The DayUSA site offers six new articles or features every day, which get added to the site’s archives, currently containing more than 2,000 articles.

Each article also features a host of “extras” that include links to additional information on the topic if students want to become “experts,” discussion questions, highlighted vocabulary words and definitions, and suggested related activities.

At the end of each article, alternate viewpoints are summarized in one paragraph each, said Amanda Kennedy, a senior product manager at Follett. In a country where people are now more often living and socializing in “echo chambers” where many people share their views, this is significant, she said.

“Students have to be able to understand different sides of issues and make educated decisions on their own,” Kennedy said. “Without that we’re just going to continue to have arguments, anger and misunderstandings.”

The digital news service costs $500 per school site for middle and high school, and $300 per elementary school, Kennedy said. Teachers and students–as well as parents–have access to the articles.

The DayUSA joins a growing marketplace of other media-related products and services, including Newsela, and CNN 10. Newsela, for example, offers students a curated set of articles from trusted news sources, presented at multiple literacy levels. It aims to promote reading and develop media literacy skills and has offered a stream of news stories and webinars around how to combat and judge fake news.

Amanda Suttle, an English teacher at Licking Valley High School in Ohio teaches a media literacy class, and said she has seen the number of news-related products and resources double from last year to this year. For example, she’s just about to pilot test Checkology, an online library of news literacy lessons, from The News Literacy Project.

“There’s so much more available. It’s a hot topic,” she said.

Guiding Teachers on Contentious Issues

Educators are eager to address fake news with students, and other organizations have also developed strategies to help them do so. Organizations like Common Sense Media and the Center for Media Literacy, for example, have produced guides and resources for teachers to help combat the spread of fake news and create discerning readers among students. California lawmakers have even proposed that the state develop a curriculum to help students evaluate online news.

Common Sense is poised to release a media literacy toolkit this month and next week will unveil a teaching strategies page addressing web literacy, said Jeffrey Knutson, a senior manager at Common Sense Education, the education arm of Common Sense Media. “Resources that teachers can take and use tomorrow in their classrooms helping students be more effective at evaluating news are in short supply,” he said.

Suttle said that is a focus of her instruction. She helps students differentiate between “fake news, news with bias or opinion, and objective news,” she said. “Critical thinking is the key.”

A big part of her class is allowing students to debate issues from all sides. But she said students today often are very insular in the information they’re exposed to: they don’t read the newspaper or watch television news. Their source for information is typically social media. “They’re all retweeting and sharing the same thoughts and opinions,” she said.

A service like The DayUSA could be helpful in exposing students to alternative views, Suttle said.

But in today’s politically-charged atmosphere, it can be difficult for teachers to comfortably address sensitive topics in class, said Joe Heppell, the managing director at The Day, and a former U.K. secondary school teacher who led classes on world religions and philosophy. The discussion questions and guides offered by The DayUSA can help, he said.

“For teachers who are uncomfortable and wary around discussing big issues, this gives you the structure and framing to use,” he said. But the varied perspectives offered in each article also provide a place to start.

A recent article featured on The DayUSA reported on President Donald Trump’s war on the media. The last two paragraphs present differing positions. On one side, the article states, press freedom is in jeopardy and Trump’s rhetoric is “a dangerous step toward silencing all criticism.” Alternatively, critics say those concerns are an “overreaction” and an adversarial relationship between the press and the president is a component of a healthy democracy.

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