1 Graz University of Technology (AUSTRIA)
2 Tallin University (ESTONIA)
3 Verein der Grazer Schulschwestern (AUSTRIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN18 Proceedings
Publication year: 2018
Pages: 8296-8302
ISBN: 978-84-09-02709-5
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2018.1935
Conference name: 10th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 2-4 July, 2018
Location: Palma, Spain
Constructively dealing with societal problems requires a process of opinion formation. This is preceded by a critical search of information from different perspectives and an evaluation thereof. It is thus worrying that we observe communicative processes in social media, which co-determine the current discourse on education policy under the notion of virtual echo chambers: user behavior in Facebook, WhatsApp and Co appears to be affected by a strong tendency or inertia of drawing virtual circles around like-minded people. In this manner communicative conditions in social Web environments reinforce our tendency to avoid cognitive dissonance. By connecting with like-minded people, we approach familiar sources of knowledge and cut oneself off from alternative viewpoints. This behavior during information search and consumption leads to an environment where our contributions are rapidly affirmed and further reinforced by personalised recommendation algorithms.

Messages of daily press about hateful Facebook postings make us aware that such excessively cohesive group dynamics quite often result in emotionalized and derogative stances to alternative viewpoints.

Due to this development and concerns about the public as a hub of different perspectives, the Austrian Ministry of Education e.g. considers introducing a specific subject on the acquisition of digital competences. Although the subject matter of media competency has already found its way into school curricula, mostly addressed so far are topics that do not exceed the level of teaching to use technological means effectively.

To address this gap, we suggest an approach that aims at developing a training of pertinent competences and a design of supportive technologies in a transdisciplinary cooperation between school and university, i.e., through a combination of practical knowledge of teachers and scientific knowledge, in particular of computer scientists and cognitive psychologists.

The focus is on the acquisition of competences that enable students to:
(i) become aware of causes and consequences of an echo chamber
(ii) face them by means of a critical-reflective search for information.

We introduce a two stage training approach that is implemented by means of workshops at schools, hands-on exercises on web-based search and social interaction. Qualitative analyses of observational protocols are applied to identify difficulties and to discuss them with teachers and students in focus groups. We present first results and observations of a real-life classroom study encompassing 90 students and three teachers that implemented the training approach.
Reflective search, echo chamber, digital competences.