How well do young people deal with contradictory and unreliable information on line? What the PISA digital reading assessment tells us

Digital communications Publishers and publishing Creative workforce Information technology Information technology Australia

With the advent of the Internet, infinite quantities of information have become available to almost everyone, and an ever-increasing proportion of reading, especially by younger people, takes place in digital environments. This entails new demands on readers. The traditional mechanisms in print publishing that exert some control over the reliability of information(Warschauer, 1999) are largely absent in the online environment. Operating successfully in the digital medium requires not only access to technology, but also the ability to integrate, evaluate and communicate information (Warschauer, 1999).
Faced with large amounts of information and limited time, readers must continually make immediate evaluations of the usefulness of different sources, in terms not only of relevance but also of trustworthiness. Readers now need increasingly to make their own choices about which information to read, and which to trust. There is sometimes an assumption that young people, as ‘digital natives’(Prensky, 2001), are able to use online information effectively, including selecting and negotiating digital texts that are not only relevant for what they need, but also are likely to provide reliable information.
This paper examines the question of how well young people are in fact able to recognise whether information is likely to be trustworthy. While some small-scale work has been done in this area (for example, Leu & Castek, 2006), this paper draws on data from the first large-scale international assessment of online reading, the Digital Reading Assessment (DRA) that was part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD PISA) 2 in 2009.

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