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Faking Breaking News: Teaching Students Media Literacy Through Play

Ariel Dyer standing in front of a wall smiling

This piece was written by reference librarian Ariel Dyer. Ariel is a new faculty member at Bakersfield College, having come from a public library background and graduating with her Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University with an emphasis in Leadership and Administration. In her free time, she loves to hike, advocate for public library funding, and watch weird horror movies.

Imagine you’re scrolling through your newsfeed on your lunch break and you come across an alarming piece of information:

Person wearing a yellow rain coat, but you can't see their face. The headline next to this picture says "Recent study finds people in yellow raincoats extremely dangerous." The preview of the article reads "In a recent study, scientists have found that tall human beings wearing yellow rain coats are extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. The study also found that these individuals are more likely to be arrested for violent crimes. In addition, these individuals are more likely to be involved in car accidents. Scientists advise people to stay away from these individuals, and to call the authorities if they see anyone matching that description. Read more at"

Oh, no! If scientists said it, it must be true! 

Ok, so it doesn’t exactly take Sherlock-level deduction skills to guess that this is, in fact, “fake news.” What’s a little more alarming than this obvious disinformation is that it took me a mere ten minutes to generate the text and image using ChatGPT and Dall-E image generator and put it together in Canva. What’s even more alarming than that–I had a lot of fun putting it together! 

The proliferation of artificial intelligence bots has made it easier and cheaper than ever before to create and disseminate misinformation. But, although films like Terminator and the recently viral M3GAN featuring a killer cyber doll may disagree, it’s not just a force for evil. Like any other technological tool, AI can serve a useful purpose in the classroom and empower students to better identify fake news and evaluate sources.

In teaching media literacy, I find that the skill students struggle with the most is recognizing their own personal biases and understanding how fake news preys on our emotions. Pairing knee-jerk feelings with new information, no matter how false and how harmful the source, generates a perfect storm for our brains to latch on and believe it even after it’s been debunked. Facts and data just don’t seem to stick in our heads quite like stories do.

How do you beat that? Maybe one way to start is through play. If I had so much fun tinkering with new AI, I’d be doing my students a disservice if I didn’t afford them the same chance. This semester, we’ll spend some time digging into misinformation and how it’s disseminated. 

Students will take the reins and create their own fake news using various AI tools and their own creativity, reverse-engineering the lesson in a way using play-based learning. Breaking these ethical rules in a controlled classroom environment allows students the freedom to explore and the control to pursue self-guided learning that will hopefully persist into future classes (and–dare I hope–social media scrollings). In this lesson, I aim to spark student interest and guide them to cultivate a deeper understanding of how to engage in our digital world with both open curiosity and sharp discernment. 

Unraveling the damage done by the prevalence of disinformation in today’s sociopolitical climate will not happen overnight. It may not even be possible at all. But as educators, we do what we can student by student and course by course–and who says we can’t have a good time along the way? The increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence will surely have far-reaching implications both good and bad, and in the classroom, we can use its emergence as an opportunity to engage students in digital citizenship and literacy.


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