Study suggests HE interventions to tackle misinformation

Moroccan higher education institutions’ curricula and syllabi should teach students skills to counter the challenges of misinformation and the spread of fake news.

This was one of the findings of a survey of 102 randomly selected university students that was published in September in a study, ‘Social Networking Sites and Misinformation Challenges in the Post-Truth Era: Moroccan students in tertiary education as a case study’, in ESI Preprints.

The study was authored by Mohamed El Kandoussi of Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco.

In the survey, the students were asked, among other questions, about the role of higher education institutions in promoting students’ soft and life skills to face the growing challenges posed by the mushrooming of social networking sites.

The study found the incorporation of higher order critical thinking competencies, with special emphasis on digital literacy skills, in all Moroccan tertiary education curricula, is a national priority.

Digital literacy

“Almost two-thirds of the participants postulate that higher education institutions should incorporate digital literacy skills in their curricula and syllabi,” El Kandoussi said.

Those who agreed think misinformation and fake news are on the rise and are created by specialists who manipulate even the well-educated, El Kandoussi explained.

Skills to counter misinformation should, therefore, be included in the teaching of students, regardless of their academic levels, and regularly updated, according to El Kandoussi.

“Unfortunately, very few departments in Moroccan universities incorporate digital media literacy and critical thinking [which are also associated with countering misinformation] courses as integral components in their curricula,” he added.

HE institutions and soft skills

A small group of participants (13%), and an even smaller portion (4.3%) believe that imparting knowledge and skills to counter misinformation should take place beyond the confines of tertiary academic institutions.

“What seems worrying is that some university students (17.4%) are undecided about such a consequential issue,” the study found.

According to the researcher, many students may hold the conviction that a higher education institution is the avenue to acquire knowledge and do research and not the place for acquiring soft skills, including digital literacy and communication skills.

“Such skills, the argument goes, need to have been picked up in early school life, long before they join higher education,” said El Kandoussi.

Online safety

A 2023 study, ‘Creating a Digital Literacy Curriculum for Students in Morocco’, also stated that, due to internet threats, young Moroccans are desperately in need of developing digital literacy skills. But the current system for teaching these skills is inadequate.

Thus, the study found that “creating a digital literacy curriculum that could teach Moroccan students how to be safe online” is needed.

A Subaveerapandiyan, a librarian at DMI-St Eugene University in Zambia, whose work focuses on the field of digital literacy, told University World News that “the responsibility of universities for the development of digitally literate university students is not unique to Morocco’s universities, but it extends to African universities across the whole continent and beyond”.

Twelve African countries are in the global top 20 countries with the weakest digital skills, and only 11% of higher education graduates on the continent have received digital training that meets international standards, according to 2021 Digital Skills Gap Index which identifies and evaluates the factors that underpin the pillars of digital strength, resilience and responsiveness.

“Digitally literate university students will have the abilities to find, evaluate, create and communicate information using digital devices, platforms and tools in both professional and personal life which help them in securing a safe, effective and responsible use of techs and the internet,” said Subaveerapandiyan, who is the lead author of the 2022 study, ‘Digital Literacy and Reading Habits of The DMI-St Eugene University Students’.

“Universities should first teach digital literacy skills to students as a separate or isolated obligatory course to improve digital literacy skills, namely, digital competence, digital usage and digital transformation,” said Subaveerapandiyan.

“These types of courses must include insights into the current and emerging digital trends and demands in their fields, as well as the intelligent use of information technologies and the internet, along with the effective and ethical way of using digital tools and platforms, methods for searching and evaluating online information, creative methods for producing and communicating digital content, and ways for protecting online identity and privacy,” Subaveerapandiyan explained.

According to him, the September 2023 study, ‘Digital literacy skills among African library and information science professionals – an exploratory study’, suggests that more practical classes instead of only theoretical study are also needed.

“Following that, universities must integrate digital literacy skills across the curriculum through embedding them in the content, activities and assessments of courses,” he said.