This is a quick-read practical summary of our observations and recommendations based on the De Facto 2019 study of learners and educators. It is meant as a quick reference guide. For the full report and analysis, click the left banner above.
The summaries here, a condensed form of advice and recommendations, can be traced back to the full document where they are situated in context and preceded by analytical work.
When considering the main reasons for learners 'disliking' assignments...
- Make an assessment, for your group of learners, which of these time-pressure factor is primary and dominant: (1) the time pressure of the assignment deadline itself, or (2) the time pressure of the collection of tasks and activities which need to be done, in team, for the assignment to be complete.
- Based on that assessment, suggest appropriate time management and stress management strategies.
- At institutional level, identify specific needs and take appropriate measures, including training, to reduce overwhelming feelings of time pressure and anxiety
- Individual preferences must be respected and we would not want to mould everyone into a team player - but teachers would benefit from knowing and understanding whether there are good reasons behind an individual's reluctance or anxiety to work in a team, as opposed to whether it is simply lack of skills, but general willingness to work in teams.
- In pragmatic terms, we would advise teachers to be prepared with assignment formats which include more opportunities for engagement for people who have reasons to be less enthousiastic about teamwork.
- We apply - and would advise to teachers - a similar logic when referring to another reason for disliking assignments, the need to present (public speaking) in front of others.
- We would suggest that teachers routinely review their assignments and adjust/update them to bring them in line with expectations with regard to these three perceptions: (1) too much work compared to the importance of the assignment, (2) too academic/not practical, and (3) little relevance to the real world.
- Perhaps teachers could think of, and suggest, methods of work that simplify or facilitate work, related to the perceived: (1) need to look for resources, and (2) too much work in identifying and scrolling through long lists of sources.
When considering the importance that learners assign to verifying their sources of informaion...
- Teachers might want to stop take for granted that their learners have a full understanding of the importance to check one's sources, and could bring the topic up for discussion at appropriate times.
- There is a notable group of leaners who fails to form an opinion on the importance to verify sources, and an even smaller one who believes there is no need at all for this to be done. Unless educators engage them actively, they will always represent a group that is under increased threat of disinformation and manipulation, with secondary education learners looking particularly vulnerable.
When considering the extent to which learners' use of sources corresponds to teachers' expectations...
- We would suggest to schools and individual educators to develop and implement a simple system which sets a baseline standard and then measures performance according to that benchmark. An example to follow, and to model this system accordingly, could be the existing models for plagiarism detection.
When considering how learners decide which sources to use for an assignment...
- Some 38% respond that they search for sources at each occasion, which we identify as a good practice which leads to improved information literacy, less bias and better quality of information (higher relevance). This model should be actively promoted by educators.
- We can consider as somewhat alarming and potentially dangerous use of sources such as 'family members' and 'other social circles'. Such sources may (although not as a rule) very often be contaminated with mis- and disinformation and should have their role in educational context under monitoring. The teachers should consider an intervention where they properly explain and discuss with learners ways to build and develop information literacy skills.
When considering whether teachers have had a formal teacher training...
- It would be a good thing to explore this further and look into the possible differences in the practices of teachers with and without formal pedagogical training. Such investigation can be carried at system level or at individual school level. This could bring to surface important differences which could, in a culture promoting models of excellence, provide new ideas and insights into various dimensions of the teaching profession.
When considering assignments' formal assessment criteria related to choice, quality and accuracy of the information sources...
- We think that teachers might be avoiding such checks for several reasons: lack of time to properly perform such checks; lack of understanding of their importance; or lack of knowledge and skills how to perform them. All of this can be established and addressed by the teachers themselves, or by an appropriate support structure in their schools or training institutions.
When considering what information types to recommend to learners...
- It is a good thing that we see a variety of source types being used. This has been shown as factor for increased engagement and motivation. We would therefore advise teachers that they think about a variety of sources. With regard to mis- and disinformation, the diversity of topics leaves the door open to discussions on the different methods of misleading and manipulation attempts that different source types employ.
When considering the preferred sources of information...
- Our advice to teachers would be to keep an eye on the preferred sources of information of the specific groups of learners they work with, and make sure that the learning assignments (and indeed all learning activities) include a good number of sources that learners find engaging, motivating and feel confident in working with them.
- This may mean that the teachers will have to step outside of their own comfort zone of established practices and sources, and that they could also use this as an opportunity to observe how different sources of information are used as platforms for attempted disinformation and manipulation. Such observations would be a valuable part of any targeted training intervention in the domain of information literacy (digital literacy & media literacy).
When considering which methods learners use to verify information...
- Using online expert platforms to place a question as a verification method has a lot of untapped potential. Based on our expertise and the quality expert infrastructure behind some of these websites and services, we would encourage educators to explore the matter and discuss with their learners how to make best use of the remarkable expert potential there.
- The survey confirms that a large number of people (and learners) work with information by comparing new facts and statements with what they already know. This is a quick and practical method that yields results without any spent effort. The real danger here is that, as we know from De Facto work on frames and framing, and the neuroscience/cognitive science behind this, our brain will amost certainly reject and dismiss information which does not conform or comply with our established beliefs or knowledge, or will further reinforce existing beliefs in the opposite scenario. This means that if we have wrong knowledge already and receive correct and truthful information, this method will dismiss and discard the truthful information to retain the validity of the existing frame. We would advise in strongest possible terms that teachers work with their learners and explain the nature of these cognitive processes and the danger in overreliance on this method for verification.
- Our working hypothesis is that some respondents were not fully aware of what a fact-checker is (and we did not provide definitions or examples in our question), and they considered it in a broader, common-sense aspect, as any site where they can go and verify a fact or a stamement by searching and looking through the information. Our recommendation to teachers and educators is to investigate this and to come up with data that either fact-checkers are a tool with a popularity beyond expectations, or that they are not known and recognisable at all (or at most). This will, in turn, allow us to either turn to fact-checkers and work with them to create a much wider support network for education, or give the teachers the opportunity to present and explain the nature of fact-checking websites and services.
When considering whether to specify a minimum number of sources for learners to use for their assignments...
- Expertise suggests that in order to build, develop and sustain information literacy skills, it is important to learn how to use and work with a variety of information sources and types. One way of ensuring that this aspect of an assignment is not overlooked is to instruct learners that they must use several different sources and information types. That would be a good first step and would lay grounds to addressing, in appropriate time, the issue of mis- and disinformation, and of the many ways information can use to travel from one place to another, or, indeed, from one mind to another.
When considering whether to specify the exact sources for learners to use for their assignments...
- Teachers providing the exact sources themselves may be highly relevant and appropriate at earlier stages of education, when learners have not yet developed sufficiently the skills to search, select, review, and use sources independently.
- Approaching this by issuing a list of recommended, but not mandatory, sources, could be a manifestation of personal teaching style, but it can also be a conscious teaching strategy, where learners have the freedom to look around and make a choice themselves, and a 'support net' is being deployed for thos who might be experiencing problems with this type of activity.
- Rather than work with whitelists and blacklists, we would suggest that teachers engage actively in pursuit of information literacy for themselves and for their learners. Blacklisting is the easiest way of approaching the issue of disinformation. But, as quick as it may be, it is a flawed process precisely because of the bias involved.
When considering how easy or difficult it is for learners to use the sources you recommend as a teacher...
- The ratio between difficult/easy responses is 1/1.5 for adult, almost 1/1 for university, 1/2 for secondary vocational. For secondary general the ratio stands at 1/3. In other words, learners in this group are facing significantly less difficult sources than the rest. Teachers migh want to investigate and test whether increasing the difficulty levels of some of their sources may bring a balance and provide challenge for more advanced learners. And this advice can be extended to all teachers as a good practice - make sure that some of the sources you provide are adequate to less-well performing learners, and some provide challenge for those who are up to it. This would translate into higher engagement and motivation levels.