Digital Literacy and Election Overload
How are we training young people to cope with information
and misinformation overload this election?
n this week’s election the group of young people aged 18-21 will be voting for the very first time. For the first time they will have to navigate the sea of information provided by major parties, minor parties, commentators and think tanks – through online news, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WeChat and blogs – to make an informed decision when casting their ballot. But how well have we set up these young people to cope with the minefield of information and misinformation put out through media and technology?
While there might be an assumption that young people who have been born into a world of technology should have an automatic understanding of it; this is not necessarily the case. They, like older generations, need encouragement to develop the skills to interact effectively and critically with digital technologies. This is why ‘digital literacy’ – using digital devices or systems, and learning to make the most of the technologies available – forms part of the newest Australian Curriculum.
Digital technology has opened the door for a constant flow of information, but it has also shown the necessity to educate young people to think critically about the messages and technologies used in its spread. Students today require different training and education than past generations to effectively prepare themselves for the future of living and working in an information-based society. This is why educators are taking positive steps to teach young people to be responsible ‘digital citizens’.
Digital citizenship refers to responsible behaviour when using digital technologies as well as literacy in how digital technologies work and how to use them. The newest Australian Curriculum supports the importance of teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy so that students can adapt to new ways of doing things as technologies evolve.
One element of digital literacy students learn is how to effectively navigate information and content from a range of sources that they encounter online. This is particularly relevant when we are talking about something as confusing as an election.
Elections around the world have demonstrated the effect that information, true or false, can have on their outcome. Misinformation can be targeted to cause distrust and disunity which is why digital literacy and critical thinking is so important to teach from a young age. As USC’s expert in Cyber Crime, Dr Dennis Desmond puts it: “Education is key to combating misinformation”. Setting students up to at least be able to select and evaluate what information is relevant will be a key skill for their future.
The curriculum highlights the importance of thinking critically, participating ethically and responsibly, and behaving safely in the digital world . All of which will be essential to prepare students for an unknown future that will be dominated by changing technologies.
Future Impact of Technology
No one knows what technologies are going to influence the future of social, political, or working life. But teaching young people to have a positive relationship toward technology and toward learning is one of the best ways to set them up for a changing future.
A ‘growth mindset’
means believing in your
learning abilities and capabilities.
How we educate young people about the use of technology can have a major impact on future job prospects as well as their interaction with the world. It is important that we foster minds that are able to critically adapt and react to rapid change. This means not just teaching students what to think about, but rather ways to think about the world.
By encouraging students to have, what is known as a ‘growth mindset’, educators are encouraging them to believe in the fact that their learning is not something that is fixed, but rather it is a continuing process. Having a growth mindset means being able to adapt to change but also to believe in your learning abilities and capabilities.
Learning is not something that stops at formal education, school or university, but it is lifelong. Whether it is learning new skills on the job or learning to make an informed decision on polling day. Googling, reading news articles, blogs, even social media posts and comments are all ways we try to learn about the world or something like an election. But you need to have been shown how to use or to have experienced these technologies in order to carry them over into your post-schooling life.
The task of educators now is to give young people the tools and positive experiences to deal with changing technology. A positive attitude toward learning will last well beyond their years at school and will help as much in finding a job as it will in cutting through any pre-election hype and misinformation. Fostering a growth mindset, training them to be digital citizens, is critical for helping young people to navigate an uncertain future both in the workforce and to participate and take control of the future social and political world.
 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2021
 Howell, J and McMaster N (2020) Teaching with Technologies, second ed. Oxford University Press, p.14
 Howell, J and McMaster N (2020) Teaching with Technologies, second ed. Oxford University Press, p.15