High school students in Seattle educate community on how to identify and combat misinformation

Students present their projects at MisinfoDay at Ballard High School. (Photo courtesy of Mike Caulfield)

The world is overwhelmed with contradictory data and claims. High school students in Seattle want to help.

Last month Ballard High School hosted MisinfoNight, an event inspired by MisinfoDay, an annual event at the University of Washington that started in 2019 and invites high school students come to a college campus to learn from faculty, students, and librarians on how to identify and combat misinformation.

MisinfoNight turns the tables and gives high school students and teachers a chance to not only learn more about navigating today’s information environment but also share knowledge with their parents and others in their community.

“MisinfoNight has made me more aware of research I see online,” said Kennedy Jensen, an incoming sophomore at Ballard High. “It makes me go back and find out, is this true? Is this trustworthy? It’s important to have youth learn about it because we’re the future.”

The event featured posters and slideshows created by the students. Many of the presentations featured a fact-checking method called SIFT: Stop; Investigate; Find better coverage; Trace claims, quotes, and media to their original context.

The method was developed by Mike Caulfield, research scientist at the UW’s Center for an Informed Public and a digital literacy expert who gave the keynote address at MisinfoNight.

Caulfield came away impressed with the student projects. Some showed the process of debunking an internet rumor; others focused on explaining algorithms, confirmation bias, and more.

“The students are experts in their community — they know what is going to resonate with their community, peers, parents,” Caulfield told GeekWire. “They know how to take these ideas and translate them into meaningful experiences for that specific community.”

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Shawn Lee, a social studies teacher at Ballard High School, helped organize the event after attending MisinfoDay at the UW.

“We are living in an information environment that is unique in human history. And we haven’t trained ourselves or students how to operate it,” Lee said. He referred to the event as a community service since it interrupts the spread of misinformation from within the community.

Lee teamed up with Liz Crouse, program coordinator at the UW Center for an Informed Public, to make information literacy education accessible beyond MisinfoNight events. They developed a three-week curriculum that teaches students about social media consumption, confirmation bias, social media algorithms, and fact-checking. They have also hosted several workshops over the past three years for teachers.

The hope is to expand MisinfoNight to other middle and high schools around the nation. They have already seen successful examples through an organization they co-founded called Teachers for an Informed Public, which involves educators and librarians to help bring media literacy curriculum into more schools and communities.

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