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3 tips for teachers addressing the election

As educators, how and what should we teach our students during an election cycle? How can we ensure objectivity and truth in an online world?

By now we’ve all been inundated with pre- and post-election coverage and analysis on numerous media platforms. It seems as if we might never escape the constant barrage of political commentary in both traditional media and social media platforms.

As November 8th approached, I made sure to leave extra class time to allow my communications students to discuss the upcoming presidential election, hoping to align their discussions with topics on my syllabus. My only rule was that they were to be respectful in their comments. I was encouraged by their mature approach, but also troubled by their dialogue, which often ranged from being frightened to air their views to confusion as to where they could find truthful information about the candidates—this from the Millennials who grew up with technology and have constant access via their handheld devices.

Is too much information a bad thing? Do countless new outlets guarantee diversity or even truth?

As educators, what is our role in terms of providing objective counsel regarding news sources, viewpoints and truth during an election cycle?

For many students, high school and college are times of tremendous personal growth and experimentation. Yet as confident as they may seem, many are yearning for guidance and a way in which to align their beliefs with the pull of popular culture. This is especially apparent during an election cycle.

Some educators take a strong stance and push their own agenda as truth, without providing students with an alternative. This is a dangerous practice, as students who don’t share the same viewpoint become afraid to express themselves, for fear of a failing grade or being berated by the teacher in front of the class. I personally experienced this during graduate school, and have heard numerous stories from my students about their own negative experiences.

Instead, our responsibility should be to facilitate students as they educate themselves by providing resources instead of opinions. My most successful class discussions occur organically when I throw out a topic and let the students participate without my intervention. They learn respect, the value of listening and, in many cases, their own truth.

(Next page: 3 tips for teachers addressing the election)

[Editor’s Note: This section of the article is written by the editors of eSchool News and are not the recommendations of the author]

According to recent research, guideline refreshes and institutional case studies, one of the best ways to facilitate meaningful and productive discussion on the election results is by teaching, supporting and encouraging digital literacy among students.

Recently, the New Media Consortium (NMC), in conjunction with the 2016 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, released Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief –a call to action for higher education leaders in an effort to establish a shared vision of digital literacy and how to make it more meaningful for students.

Tips for teachers:

1. Help students define what makes a good online resource.

2. Be an example for students on how to discuss the election results in a civil and respectful way.

3. Help student identify valid sources in a variety of online formats.

For example, the brief notes that today’s digitally literate student must not only be able to define what makes a good online resource (citation, validity of source, fact comparison to other valid sources), but also be able to maintain a civil discussion on online forums. For instance, sociology courses may be able to harness election coverage to teach interpersonal actions online, such as the ethics and politics of social network interaction, while psychology and business classes can focus on computer-mediated human interaction.

In K-12, both ISTE [read here] and Common Sense Media [read here] have detailed guidelines on digital literacy standards. [Read: “8 ways to improve your digital teaching.”]

Students must also be able to identify more than just valid sources of online news material. Other mediums included in digital literacy are videos on popular sites like YouTube, personal and professional blogs, and social media accounts.

Faculty will play a critical role in not only modeling the kind of behavior and tone of discourse they’d like to see in their students, but are an invaluable guide in teaching these aspects of today’s digital literacy to students.

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