Evaluating The News Literacy Project: A Series

Facebook and news organizations are banding together to fight ‘fake news’ with a new curriculum for schools.  Can we trust them to teach students what news is?

‘Fake News’ has been the hot topic for quite a few months, particularly its role in the 2016 presidential campaign.  Facebook has tried to stop the spread of false stories on its platform by closing fake accountsand flagging news they classify as fake.  And recently, the phrase ‘news literacy’ has been popping up in social media threads, spread by news organizations and related nonprofits claiming a desire to educate news consumers on how to read and process information they see in their own feeds.

When I saw this trend and began following the organizations talking about news literacy, I discovered that over thirty news organizations had partnered together with Facebook in a News Literacy Project, a program that offers educational resources to teachers as part of an effort purporting to teach students good news consumer habits.  Here’s one of the graphics they used to attract attention: statements in a font that has been made three dimensional and turned 90 degrees to the left. See if you can read what it says.

By the end of the course, the program claims that students will become ‘checkologists’, able to sort through articles, video reports, and other inputs and identify news from other types of information.

Curious, I found a teacher friend willing to apply for access, and began working my way through the series of modules in the course.  What follows is the first in a series of in-depth descriptions of the activities I encountered, and my thoughts on the resources and tasks available in the program.  Parents with children in junior high or high school don’t necessarily have time to assess the teaching materials or activities of projects like this before their children experience them, so my aim is to give as much information as possible on the NLP’s classroom program, and let parents know what to expect.

The basic program works like this: students watch videos, or read articles, or complete exercises, on different topics in several modules:
  • Filtering News and Information
  • Exercising Civic Freedoms
  • Navigating Today’s Information Landscape
  • How to Know What to Believe

As they progress through the modules, students face different tasks related to the material they’ve encountered, in forms such as:

  • Multiple Choice
  • Short Essay
  • Recording an Opinion
  • Ranking and Sorting
  • Defending Selections They Make

The answers they give sometimes results in immediate feedback; where appropriate the screen will let them know an answer was correct or to go back and choose another answer.  Other times, the answer will be saved for teacher review, and possibly future discussion, depending upon how the lesson is presented.  The students have a ‘locker’ in the program where they can track rewards such as badges earned for completing modules, and see their overall progress; this contributes an element of ‘gamification’ the units, fitting the lessons into formats they more readily understand in their social-media-saturated environments.

The program’s website claims to have reached 25,000 students in its first eight years in media markets such as Chicago, New York City, the Washington DC area, and Houston. Now, since January 2017, they state that nearly 2,000 teachers are registered to administer the program in all 50 states and DC to over 220,000 potential students.

I’ll go through each module in a separate post, detailing the lessons and themes, and adding my thoughts and analysis.  I’ll also try to answer any questions about each module as they come up after the fact, so be sure to add your comments and questions after each installment.  My initial reaction to learning about this program was mistrust, given that there is so much bias and polarization in media at the present time.  Media coverage, credibility, and bias are minefields, and navigating these topics is often an invitation to an argument.  But while I am highly skeptical about a nationwide effort to teach ‘news literacy’, especially one led by mainstream media outlets and reporters, I am adamant about the need for people to become better news consumers.  I want to evaluate this program fairly as a potential tool to help people navigate the polluted waters of the internet information age.  Stay tuned as we see what the News Literacy Project is all about.


To learn more about the News Literacy Project, see their website.

See the partner organizations here