Author:
Liz Crouse, Shawn Lee
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Education Standards (7)

Digital Survival Skills Module 1: My Media Environment

Digital Survival Skills Module 1: My Media Environment

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Title image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

General Overview

The information revolution of the 21st century is as significant and transformative as the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In this unit, students – and by proxy their families – will learn about the challenges of our current information landscape and how to navigate them.

This unit is split into four modules. These modules can be done sequentially or stand on their own, depending on students’ needs and teachers’ timeframes. The modules culminate in a Digital Survival Skills Workshop hosted by students where they teach these skills to their community. If you plan to complete the culminating project, we suggest introducing it briefly at the beginning of Module 1 so students know what the end goal is. See Module 4 for introduction materials.

In this module (1 of 4), students analyze their own use of online social media platforms and learn how filter bubbles and confirmation bias shape the content of their media environment.

WA Educational Technology Learning Standards

Digital Citizen - Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

Knowledge Constructor - Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

 

Enduring Understandings

Social media platforms are designed to prioritize user engagement. The more time we spend on the platforms, the more ads we see, the more money the platforms make. This focus on engagement, when combined with our natural desire to engage with information that is emotionally charged or confirms our pre-exisiting beliefs, has shaped our experiences on these platforms in problematic ways. 

Supporting Questions

  1. What makes our online information landscape difficult to navigate?
  2. What does your personal media environment look like? What factors affect what you see in your social media feeds?
  3. How does your media environment affect your understanding of the world?
  4. What would you like to change about your social media consumption?

Learning Targets

Students will be able to…

  • Explain why today’s online information landscape can be hard to navigate
  • Analyze their use of social media platforms and identify patterns in what topics and ideas are showcased 
  • Explain how social media platforms decide what to display in their feed and the motivations behind these decisions
  • Evaluate their own confirmation bias and explain the impacts of confirmation bias at an individual and societal level
  • Explain how social media algorithms and confirmation bias can lead people to false or extreme content online
  • Make informed decisions about how they want to use social media

Tasks

  1. Today's Information Landscape
  2. My Media Environment
  3. Who Controls Your Feed?
  4. Filter Bubbles & Confirmation Bias
  5. How Algorithms + Confirmation Bias = Misinformation
  6. Who Controls Your Feed? Revisited

Task 1: Today’s Information Landscape

Students consider the effects of the shift in media production from the pre-internet world, when a small group controlled media content, to today’s Information Age, when anyone with access to a device and the internet can create and share content with a wide audience.

Materials: Student Handout | Student Survey (optional)

Note: if you plan to complete all modules, we suggest introducing the culminating project briefly at the beginning of Module 1 so students know what the end goal is. See Module 4 for introduction materials.

1. Students use the Student Handout to select all the places they get their news, then share out responses to the class. Teacher or student tallies responses on the board so the class can see which sources are most used.

Alternate Options:
- Students do this digitally by filling out the Student Survey
, then teacher or student displays results in a bar graph.
- Teacher or student leads a whole class brainstorm to come up with information sources instead of using the list provide.

2. Teacher or students cross out sources that weren’t available 50 years ago. This will leave TV, radio, family/friends, school, (print) news and magazines, and any other offline information sources. Students consider the following questions through written reflection on the Student Handout, small or large group discussion, or a combination.

  • What information sources were available 50 years ago? How does this compare with the sources available today? What are the pros and cons of this shift? For each time period, think about:
    • The amount of news information available
    • Who decided what was published
    • Peoples’ ability to find credible information
    • How these things affected people’s shared understanding of the world

3. Students watch the first part of the Crash Course episode Introduction to Navigating Digital Information, from beginning to 7:43, to review main points about the shift in how we find, share, and produce information. Ask them to listen for how the media environment has changed and some of the cons that come with that shift.

4. Students complete the exit ticket on the Student Handout to summarize what they learned about the pros and cons shifting media environment.

Task 2: My Media Environment

Students examine their use of online platforms by analyzing their screen time and content of their social media accounts and feeds.

Materials: My Media Environment assignment directions & example | Devices that can access social media

1. Introduce the My Media Environment Assignment with the directions & example presentation.

  • In this assignment, students will create a 3-slide presentation that displays a snapshot of their use of online platforms and any patterns they noticed in content (Is it all jokes? Politics - leaning one way or the other? Personal updates from friends and family?). They will revisit this assignment at the end of the unit through the lens of their new knowledge about how online platforms work.

2. If students don’t use social media, they can do this assignment on the information sources they do use. For example, instead of looking at the top producers of their social media content, they could analyze the content on their most used news sources (print, online, tv, radio, friends and family).

3. Give students class time to work on the assignment. If students can’t access social media on campus, ask them to take screenshots of the most recent 20 posts in their feed to refer to in class or do this work at home.

4. Direct students to share their slideshow, in small groups or by posting to an online classroom space (Schoology, Google Classroom, etc). Optional: Students write about what was most and least surprising to them as they reviewed or discussed classmates’ presentations.

 

Task 3: Who Controls Your Feed?

Students investigate how social media platforms make money off our attention and how that business model affects what the platforms display in our feeds, from targeted ads and recommended pages to posts from friends and family.

Materials: Student Handout

1. Students use the Student Handout to write individually or turn and talk to respond to the question: What are some of the pros and cons of social media?

2. Students watch part of Social Media, the 10th episode of the Crash Course “Navigating Digital Information” (watch 2:34–8:27) and answer the following prompts on the Student Handout individually or in pairs:

  • I was surprised or interested to learn that…
  • We don’t have to pay to use social media because…
  • Social media companies need to keep us engaged because…
  • Social media companies keep us engaged by….

3. Students investigate how their most-used platform decides what to display in their feed and what data it collects by researching the following questions on the Student Handout:

  • Who owns this platform?
  • How does this platform decide what posts to display in your feed?
    • Does it display all posts from people you’re following, or do they choose which ones to highlight in your feed?
    • How does it order posts? Chronologically? If not, how does it decide the order? Do you get a choice in the order, for example, can you choose to display posts chronologically if that’s not the default?
  • How does this platform decide what ads to show you?
    • Does it have targeted ads? (Ads selected just for people like you)
    • Does it let you view the information it uses about you to target ads?
    • Does it let you turn off targeted ads?
  • What data does the platform collect on you? What does it do with this data?

4. Students get together with others that researched their platform to compare findings. Then each group shares out to the class. Student or teacher records answers. Optional: class votes on which platform has the best and worst policies.

Task 4: Filter Bubbles & Confirmation Bias

Students learn about confirmation bias and filter bubbles through videos and an activity that aims to activate their confirmation bias and allow them to reflect on it.

Materials: Student Handout | Headlines: Which would you like or share?

1. Students write on the Student Handout or turn and talk about this question: Have you heard of filter bubbles or confirmation bias before? If so, what do you know about them?

2. Students watch the next part of Social Media from the Crash Course “Navigating Digital Information” (watch 8:27–10:06)

  • In the video, John Green says that because social media “algorithms mostly show us things we are likely to like and agree with, we often find ourselves in so-called filter bubbles, surrounded by voices we already know we agree with, and often unable to hear from those we don’t.” In the activity for this lesson, students engage in a scenario that shows how our confirmation bias works in conjunction with the algorithms to create these filter bubbles.

3. Students answer questions on the Student Handout to determine which issues they feel strongly about. This information is important for the next part of the activity. A few questions are listed below:

Pre-Activity: What issues do you feel strongly about?

Music & Learning: Does listening to music while studying help people learn?
Yes                Probably                I don’t know                Probably not                No

Phones in Classrooms: Would banning phones in classrooms help education?
Yes                Probably                I don’t know                Probably not                No

Immigration in the U.S.: Do you think immigration is a benefit to the USA?
Yes                Probably                I don’t know                Probably not                No

4. Students circle the topics they had the strongest opinions about.

5. Students look at Headlines: Which would you like or share?, focusing on the articles that match the topics they had the strongest opinions about. They reflect on their thoughts and feelings about the information presented by completing the chart on page 2 of the Student Handout, again focusing on the topics they have strong opinions about. Chart excerpt below. Note to students that all of these headlines are from credible sources.

TopicPost HeadlineHow does this information make you feel? Do you want it to be true or false?Would you share or like this post? Why or why not?
Music & LearningDrowned in Sound: how listening to music hinders learning (The Guardian)  
3 Reasons You Should Try Studying While Listening to Music (Colorado State University Online)  

6. To understand the cognitive bias at work when they engage with these articles, students watch Confirmation Bias: Why do our brains love fake news? (5:20) from KQED’s Above the Noise and respond to the following prompts on the Student Handout:

  • The part of this video that most surprised me was...
  • Confirmation bias causes us to…
  • This matters because…
  • During the article activity, I feel I did / did not [circle one] experience confirmation bias because…

7. Students watch Soldier v. Scout Mentality (11:45), a TEDx talk by Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, and respond to the following prompts on the Student Handout:

  • The part of this video that most interested me was…
  • If you have a soldier mindset, you care more about the ideas you agree with winning. If you encounter facts that suggest you’re wrong, you attack or ignore them – and can end up believing and spreading misinformation. If you have a scout mindset, you care more about finding out the truth, whether it matches what you think or not. If you encounter facts that suggest you’re wrong, you get curious and open your mind to the possibility that your ideas need to change. Because of confirmation bias, your brain usually wants to be in the soldier mindset. It doesn’t like new ideas contradicting what it already believes. What are some things you can do to practice a scout mindset?

 

Task 5: How Algorithms + Confirmation Bias = Misinformation

Using YouTube as an example, students learn how social media platforms’ algorithms, combined with our desire to accept information that aligns with what we already believe, can lead people to consume progressively more extreme and false content.

Materials: Student Handout | Example YouTube algorithm assignment

1. Students watch the next part of Social Media from the Crash Course “Navigating Digital Information” (from 10:06–11:42) to learn about “Extreme Recommendation Algorithms,” then respond to this prompt on the Student Handout:

  • Some social media apps show us more and more outrageous content the longer we’re on the app because….

2. Students learn more about how YouTube’s algorithm has pushed people to outrageous and false information by doing one of the following:

3. Students write individually or discuss in pairs / small groups about the following questions: Why are algorithms and confirmation bias problematic for information? Cite evidence from the above materials.

4. Students review the YouTube algorithm assignment directions (included on Student Handout) and example assignment to learn how to experiment with the YouTube algorithm to see how many clicks it takes to get to extreme or false information.

5. Students present their findings to small groups or the whole class, or teacher posts all student presentations to a learning management system where students can view their peers’ work and reflect on what they found most and least surprising.

 

Task 6: My Media Environment - Revisited

Students go back to their My Media Environment assignment to reflect on their media environments through the lens of their new knowledge and suggestions from John Green.

Materials: My Media Environment – Revisited

1. Review: In this module we learned about how humans naturally create “filter bubbles” or information environments full of people and ideas they like and agree with. We also learned how social media platforms can push us toward more extreme and outrageous content, since people often engage with that kind of content because it causes an emotional response.

2. Students look at their My Media Environment one-pager through the lens of what they’ve learned about filter bubbles, confirmation bias, and social media algorithms. They follow the My Media Environment – Revisited directions to add another page/slide to their original assignment that addresses the following questions (They can address all questions or choose the four that are most relevant to them):

Engagement:

  • What percentage of posts on your feed (roughly) elicit strong positive or negative emotions?
  • Would you classify anything in your feed as extreme, hard core, radical, or incendiary?

Filter Bubbles / Confirmation Bias:

  • Are you following people and pages that have different viewpoints and perspectives than you do, or do most share your point of view on controversial issues?
  • Choose a few posts on your feed that present ideas that you strongly agree or disagree with. Think about why you agree/disagree with them. Is your agreement/disagreement based on evidence from both sides, or the fact that the idea does or doesn’t align with your worldview (though you don’t actually know much about it)?

Going forward:

  • Does your preferred social media platform allow you to turn off the “best” or “top” posts feature so they display information to you in a more neutral way? Have you used this feature already or will you use it in the future? Why or why not?
  • If you wanted to get more diverse viewpoints, what credible sources could you go to or follow? Do you know of any?
  • How has what you’ve learned in this module changed the way you think about social media?