Thursday, April 5, 2012

Disrupt their thinking - teaching students about propaganda

Digital media may be the single largest divider that defines the gap in generations today.  Kids grow up now consuming far more digital media in the forms of online videos, games, and even television, than my generation ever did.  A reading skill I developed as I matured was the ability to be able to be a discriminating consumer of what I read - but it was so much easier back then!  We could neatly categorize advertisements, opinion pieces, political rhetoric, etc. The techniques weren't that tricky to spot.  One only need to read the back cover of a book and a little "about the author" to be able to figure out what might be the underlying point of view or message of a novel.  What kids "consume" today looks radically different, and can no longer be neatly categorized.  YouTube brings them videos for entertainment and information, but the "about the author", if it even exists, is not as helpful, and often they know nothing about the messenger.  Videos go viral - if everyone is watching them that means they're good, right?  The messages are many, and mixed.

In my middle school technology course, I spend a lot of time teaching kids how to create impactful messages using video.  There is a lot of noise out there, and if they want their message to be heard, there are techniques they need to be able to use skillfully to give it a chance.  In much the same way it is also equally important that they are able to be good, discerning, and critical consumers of what they see.

A new UK website, Digital Disruption, is beginning to be a great resource for helping to teach this important way of thinking and awareness to kids.

Digital Disruption is a website aimed specifically at teens, and focuses on 7 commonly used propaganda techniques in video.  Students are then given a series of simple but thought provoking polling questions - asking them things like if they would share the video they just saw.  The site accepts contributions of actual YouTube videos to use in its lessons, which is very useful for teaching this at a realistic level.

The lessons first introduce students to common propaganda techniques, then move on to a series of thoughtful lessons using actual videos.  Discussion suggestions, activities, and polls are given - all of which help to create an awareness and a savviness among the students.  It may not make them experts on propaganda, but the Digital Disruption headline question, "Who Owns Truth", surely gets them thinking more critically about what they view.

It's important that we teach kids that they need to learn how to use the internet, and not let the internet use them.  Tools like Digital Disruption are going to become a necessity for teachers and parents to have in their toolbox. Kids need our guidance - and this particular skill, or awareness, is something we have to mindfully teach -we simply cannot expect our students to figure this one out on their own.  When it comes to the digital media our kids consume on a regular basis, it's crucial that they understand "No One Owns Truth".

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