Helping students understand these dangers and identify the warning signs can make them smarter, more informed consumers of information, as well as better prepare them for the workforce. Here are three strategies that can help them hone their online critical thinking and evaluation skills:
- Cross-reference information. Go to a number of sites and cross-check information. Don’t rely on a single site for all of your information.
- Look out for red flags. If a website or person tries to isolate a group and make them seem different, brings up a “golden age” in history and claims it was ruined by a specific group of people, or plays the victim of another group of people, be wary.
- Use RAVEN. This mnemonic device helps students remember how to evaluate online content using a series of questions that involve a website’s Reputation, the site or person’s Ability to see both sides of an issue, if the site or author has a Vested interest in a certain point of view, their level of Expertise in the area, and their Neutrality.
A good, informative website should make an effort to acknowledge that there are different points of view on every possible subject. Is there anything that might influence the site, or the writer, to take a particular point of view? Does the person writing know or have any connection to any of the people or issues involved?
Students should be taught how to report online material that is hateful or malicious. Most social media sites make it easy to flag or report such content. Students should keep a record of what happened, noting the time and date. If the offensive content was online, take a screenshot, as this will create a permanent record of what happened. If it arrived via email, online chat, or text, keep the message and (if possible) the username or email address of the person who sent it.
Students also should be wary of flattery: someone who tells them very quickly how great they are online is just as suspicious as someone who does this in person. If students are worried about an online relationship, they should talk about it with the institution, a parent, or even the authorities, as an outside perspective often helps to see things clearly. Anyone who wants to keep their friendship a secret should be a real cause for concern. Above all, students should remember they can always say “no” to online requests.
Engaging in dialogue with others who come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs helps reinforce these critical thinking skills and supports a culture of online civility. Generation Global, a free platform and curriculum that brings together students from different backgrounds and cultures, is one tool that can help. The platform’s instructor training guide can help educators convey these important critical thinking skills to students.
The good habits students learn in the classroom will follow them throughout life, enabling them to evaluate online information with a critical eye while still engaging in peaceful social and professional dialogue.