In a digital age, being an informed citizen draws on the ability to locate trustworthy information and determine its reliability. Sites of varied quality flood our screens. Can young people today tell fact from fiction online? Can they distinguish between dubious and credible sources? Recent evidence suggests not. In 2018 and 2019, our team administered an assessment of online reasoning to 3,446 high school students across the country and found they were vexed by even basic evaluations of digital sources.
A Different Approach
How can we help students become smarter consumers of digital information? To develop a roadmap, we observed fact checkers at the nation’s leading news outlets and distilled their strategies into an instructional approach we call Civic Online Reasoning (COR)—the ability to search for, evaluate, and verify social and political information.
In 2018, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) teamed with the Poynter Institute and the Local Media Association to create MediaWise, an initiative supported by Google.org. We worked alongside classroom teachers to develop curriculum for teaching the skills of Civic Online Reasoning. A pilot study in a Northern California school district showed modest but promising gains. We fine-tuned our approach and then conducted a full-scale experiment with students in a large Midwestern school district. Compared with students in regular classrooms, students in COR classrooms improved significantly in their ability to evaluate online sources.
The COR curriculum is available for free at cor.stanford.edu. The suite of lessons can be implemented as a full curriculum or taught as a series of stand-alone lessons. Our materials are accompanied by instructional videos introducing the approach, easy-to-use assessments for tracking students’ progress, and a ten-episode video series, Navigating Digital Information, by noted author and YouTube star John Green.
What’s at Stake
The threat to democracy from a digitally credulous citizenry is nothing less than an issue of national defense. Facing this challenge will require a renewed educational commitment that acknowledges the depth of the problem and meets it with vigor and resolve. We offer this curriculum as a start in that direction.