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Dec 01, 2016 12:40 AM EST

Stanford Research: Students Have Trouble Judging the Credibility of Online Information

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Following the tirade against search engines and social networks for allowing the spread and proliferation of fake news, a report from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) revealed that most students are unable to reason with information they see online and judge if the resource is credible.

The report also showed that despite being technologically-savvy and adept, students have a hard time telling organic content from sponsored ones.

While Google and Facebook may have already began to take measures to ensure fake news don't get circulated and shared, SHEG began their research last January 2015.

SHEG scholars saw the importance of determining students' levels of "civic online reasoning" to identify skills to teach kids in distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources of information online.

The research, funded by the Robert McCormick Foundation, was written by SHEG founder, Prof. Sam Wineberg and Director Joel Breakstone with researchers Sarah McGrew and Teresa Ortega.

The authors worked with teachers, university researchers, librarians and news experts to come up with age-appropriate tests for the young participants. These tests were given to schools from 12 states and 6 different universities.

Stanford researchers tested students from middle school, high school and college and these assessments covered news literacy and posts from social networks like Twitter and Facebook. They gathered 7,804 responses both from well-resourced and under-resourced schools in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

They found that most middle school students cannot distinguish between sponsored content and real news stories. On the high school level a majority of the participants were unaware of the basic conventions that distinguishes verified sources of digital information.

The assessment for college students required more complex reasoning and results show that a credible-looking about page and links to reputable websites can easily get students to believing that the website is legitimate without paying close attention to the content.

Findings for this research will allow faculty and educators to assess student's skills and create tools and instruction media that will help equip young people and make them more discerning of the information they find online.

You can view the report's executive summary here.

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