In 2010, the NewsTrust team developed a range of new educational tools to help students tell apart fact from fiction in the news. Here are some highlights of this year's educational programs, in partnership with ten different universities and high schools.
Border News - A student-powered news site
This fall, we hosted our most ambitious educational pilot yet: Border News was our first nationwide, interscholastic collaboration at the college level. Convened by professors Sally Lehrman and Venise Wagner, this project brought together 235 students from five colleges to find good (and bad) journalism about immigration.
The participating colleges and their faculty hosts were:
- Santa Clara University [hosted by Sally Lehrman]
- San Francisco State University [hosted by Venise Wagner and Katynka Martinez]
- University of Alabama [hosted by George Daniels]
- University of Nevada, Reno [hosted by Donica Mensing]
- Columbia College [hosted by Teresa Puente]
We invited all students to find good journalism on immigration, using our new group curation tools. Their student-powered news site, Border News, featured their most trusted stories throughout this experiment. For thirteen weeks, they collaborated with each other and with the NewsTrust community in a special Immigration News Hunt, from September 13th to December 1st, 2010. Together, we searched for the best news coverage of immigration and generated 1,386 reviews of 340 stories on this topic, of which 1,086 reviews (78%) came from the students, with coaching from their professors. (see photos from our SFSU kick-off meeting with Venise Wagner's class)
On Border News, the students curated an informative feed of immigration stories on NewsTrust. We also experimented with other social tools for curating and sharing the news. The professors asked their students to publicize their activity on Twitter under the hashtag "#bordernews." This enabled an open conversation about immigration issues on social media, with NewsTrust stories as the background. It also enabled these journalism students to practice their Twitter skills. Catchy headlines, smart keyword use, and short-linking are essential skills for journalists today, and Border News students were able to practice them, thanks to deep Twitter integration on NewsTrust.
Border News was the first public pilot to use our new NewsTrust Groups application. On the Border News group page, you can see a current listing of all the stories posted, reviewed, and starred by the students and faculty members, as well as their comments. The stories on this page display a special blue Trust-O-Meter showing the Group Rating, meaning the average NewsTrust rating given by members of the group, rather than the community at large. Underneath the Group Rating, the site-wide rating is shown in green numerals for comparison. This allows you to see how the ratings from Border News students compare to those of the NewsTrust community in general. (See also our full listing of the students' most trusted stories)
The journalism professors who partnered with us on this project thought Border News was a success. SCU professor Sally Lehrman, who came up with the idea for this experiment, shared these reflections:
"I was delighted when San Francisco State and the other universities agreed to jump on board with SCU. Now NewsTrust gives students the opportunity to interact thoughtfully with immigration news in real time and with others in their age group around the country... I've noticed greater awareness of the perspectives embedded in the news and the code words that help shape these."
Journalism professor Donica Mensing at UNR, a long-time NewsTrust friend and partner, felt that Border News "was a great success. The students were far more engaged by focusing primarily on one topic than in previous years when I left the topic open."
Most encouraging of all were the responses from the students themselves. Here are just a few of them:
"I really like how [NewsTrust] is very organized, especially when it comes to search for a news story. By being a member, I get the opportunity to read the most recent top stories and add my own opinion (it help me a lot when it came to find articles on immigration) and rate it. It would be awesome to see a similar version of NewsTrust in spanish, but overall great site. Keep up the wonderful work!"
- Marianna Ballesteros, SFSU
"I like the user-interface and the scoring system of rank and merit on the site. I like the idea that if I contribute enough to the site, I will watch my rating increase. I like that the stories themselves are being reviewed (if only at times) by fellow journalists, which make for a system in self-regulation. Essentially, I like that journalists are patrolling their own, ensuring that the ideals of objectivity and peer-review are upheld."
- Christian Bertolaccini, UNR
"The ability to view ratings, reviews, and other people's opinions on a story... helped me to decide if the story was trustworthy. I think this collaborative gathering of news, to put together a source of "good journalism" is a great idea and very useful tool."
- Isabella Sleister, UNR
"I joined NewsTrust for a journalism class that I am in. I look forward to contributing; I wouldn't have heard of this site if it weren't for this class and I think that it's a great idea and I'm glad to be a part of it."
- Che Bajandas, SFSU
Reinventing the News at Northeastern
NewsTrust can help teach news literacy, civics and journalism in a variety of ways, and more schools are now starting to use our tools on their own, without requiring our help. This semester, while we were facilitating the Border News project, long-time NewsTrust advisor Dan Kennedy's "Reinventing The News" course at Northeastern University and the JRN 215 class at Eastern Michigan University both used NewsTrust in their classrooms.
Check out Dan Kennedy's round-up blog post, in which he links to some great comments and criticisms of NewsTrust from his students. Earlier this year, Dan invited another class of students to review stories on NewsTrust and write about their experience. See our earlier blog post. Northeastern student Hannah Martin offered this eloquent description of what she learned using NewsTrust:
"What I liked about the reviewing experience was it forced me to really analyze my news on its journalistic value, which, as bad as it sounds, is often something that slips my mind." ... "I browse the headlines of nyt.com, read what looks important, and accept it as fact, rarely stopping to count sources or assess context. The process of reviewing though, forced me to think through all the elements of each piece, and consider what, as a journalist, should ultimately be there."
- Hannah Martin, Northeastern
Studying Journalism at EMU
At the same time, other journalism projects like the News Writing and Reporting class at Eastern Michigan University have started using NewsTrust on their own, to help students develop their news literacy skills. For a student perspective, be sure to read Kaylee Lentz's wonderful blog post entitled "What I've learned from NewsTrust." Here's a highlight:
"I feel so much more aware of my fellow inhabitants just from browsing [NewsTrust]’s news section. So, after having such an eye-opening experience, I’ll probably keep this website close to me and reference it often."
- Kaylee Lentz, EMU
Our First High School Pilots
In April 2010, we hosted our first high school pilots with the International High School in San Francisco and the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, with funding from the Ayrshire Foundation and Omidyar Network. This spring, 120 high school students participated in our Global Economy News Hunt with Global Voices and Link TV (see photos from IHS). This pilot demonstrated that NewsTrust can be effectively extended for secondary education. According to their teachers, students became more engaged as citizens and more savvy about the news; they also learned a great deal about the global economy and surrounding civic issues. Read more about this high school pilot in our full report (PDF).
Here are some comments from high school teachers who used NewsTrust in their classrooms:
"Students were quite inspired. Many had the opportunity to really think about the conventions and current state of journalism for the first time. The instrument itself as a piece of IT was impressive and represents a positive aspect of how journalism is evolving in this digital age."
- Andrew Brown, International High School of San Francisco
"The relevance of the content, interactive interface and socially networked learning all impressed me about the NewsTrust framework for classroom use. Most of the 'liked least' issues were addressed throughout the spring with adjustments and enhancements to the service."
- Diana Laufenberg, Science Leadership Academy of Philadelphia
Bad Journalism News Hunt
In March 2010, we ran a one-week Bad Journalism News Hunt with journalism students from Stanford University, under the guidance of professor and NewsTrust board member Howard Rheingold. This project produced some excellent work, as well as some valid and thoughtful criticisms of NewsTrust and the process of crowd-sourced news curation. Stanford student Susana Montes-Delgado shared these observations:
"NewsTrust, apart from helping readers discern between good and crappy information, is a great tool to test your journalism literacy. By using a review form, you evaluate stories based on how factual, balanced and contextual they are. But most importantly, the system allows you to be more critical about the information you consume on the Web."
- Susana Montes-Delgado, Stanford
See our report to learn more; there were many valuable insights from this News Hunt.
This was our second hunt for bad journalism with college students; our first, with Santa Clara University in Fall 2009 (see blog post), paved the way for this year's Border News collaboration.
Feedback from Educators
This summer, we surveyed our partners and advisors to get their feedback about these educational applications of NewsTrust.
Here are our key observations from this survey:
- most teachers we surveyed found NewsTrust useful for their school (90%)
- over three-quarters were planning to use NewsTrust again next year (77%)
- teachers told us their students became more engaged in the news as a result
Teachers pointed to these key benefits when asked what their students could learn best from NewsTrust:
- to think critically about what they read (90%)
- to recognize good journalism (63%)
- to recognize bad journalism (58%)
Going forward, they were planning to use NewsTrust for these applications:
- for a single class activity (as outlined in our teacher guides) (65%)
- as an ongoing research tool (for learning about any topic you like) (53%)
- for a weeklong News Hunt (or news comparison) (47%)
They also thought that NewsTrust would be most useful for media studies, civics / government, social studies and journalism classes.
Because this particular survey was limited to educators who were already familiar with our service, their feedback was well informed, and their insights were invaluable for planning our next steps in education.
Prior to joining NewsTrust, I coordinated civic engagement programs in a mid-sized public school district, and NewsTrust's potential as a civics and media literacy teaching tool was one of the key features that drew me in to this job. To complement our report above, I would like to share my personal observations about NewsTrust's potential as an educational tool.
Our spring 2010 educational pilots were some of my first NewsTrust projects as a contributing editor for NewsTrust. After taking the reins as managing editor this fall, I had the privilege of conducting the Border News project and experimenting with NewsTrust's versatile set of tools for teaching news literacy and media studies.
Based on my experience this year, it appears that we've built some useful tools for students and educators alike. NewsTrust review tools and story listings already enabled deeper engagement with the news, and now, with the new Groups application, I think NewsTrust is coming of age as a resource for students.
NewsTrust Groups provide an ideal platform for any number of ways classrooms could engage with the news. A group can be a student-curated news site, allowing students to run their own virtual newsroom. It can also be an online news discussion section moderated by an instructor. We can create groups for entire schools, or for individual sections or classes, or even for small-group work within a class. It provides teachers the ability to evaluate their students' work, and it allows students to respond to each other. For schools concerned about confidentiality, we even have a variety of privacy options, so that NewsTrust Groups can be visible to the web, to NewsTrust members only, or restricted to members of the group.
For an ideal example of what students and teachers can do with NewsTrust, look no further than Border News.
We'd like to thank the students who worked with us this year for doing an amazing job, and their instructors for bringing these unprecedented and innovative projects into their classrooms. We learned a lot in the process and hope to develop a full set of educational tools over time, to help the next generation of citizens become more savvy about they hear in the news.
If you're an educator interested in using NewsTrust with your students, be sure to read our teacher guides, student guides, activities and other educational resources on our site. If you have any questions, please send us a message at schools-at-newstrust-dot-net. We would love to work with you to help you use NewsTrust in your classroom.
We look forward to hosting more educational activities as part of our upcoming NewsTrust Baltimore pilot -- and we hope all these experiments will lead to some exciting new projects in the future.
-- by Jon Mitchell, Managing Editor
Support our work
If you think our educational work is useful, please consider a donation, so we can keep providing services like these to the public in 2011. NewsTrust is not a commercial site, it is free community service dedicated to helping people find quality news and information online. Read more about our nonprofit organization, which is devoted to promoting good journalism, news literacy and civic engagement.