We all try to instill critical thinking through our classes, particularly the ability to evaluate information. As one of my colleagues often says: “How do we get information about what’s happening globally? Through the news.” His point is that an understanding of the media is essential to any International and Global Studies class. And evaluating the media is particularly difficult in the current era, as more information has become digital, and there are fewer gatekeepers to information.
Kimberly Pendell at the PSU library has developed (with help from Beth Pickard) an amazing ‘fake news’ resource, which is itself an adaption of one created by librarians at Loyola Marymount University. You can find this great teaching resource here. The website talks about what is fake news, provides examples, and helps students to factcheck and contextualize information. It also provides key definitions, such as for the terms confirmation bias and click bait. I particularly liked the examples that the website gives, which help students to think more critically about the media. Over the last few years I’ve done a great deal of work around conspiracy theories, from the alleged murder of the investigator Alberto Nisman in Argentina (a paper that I wrote with Leopoldo Rodriguez), to competing narratives about the 2009 influenza pandemic. For this reason, my favorite example was #3, which showed how sources that peddle conspiracy theories can make themselves appear to authoritative. Finally, the resource has an embedded clip of Stephen Colbert discussing “truthiness.” Of course.
I asked Kimberly Pendell if there was anything that she wanted to share about this teaching resource, and this is what she said:
“I was inspired to publish and share this guide with Portland State students because we are in a decisive time, particularly in regards to how we produce, communicate, evaluate, and utilize information. The Internet and social media have significantly democratized the production and access to information, which is fantastic for many reasons, but also makes us vulnerable to manipulation in new ways. Critical evaluation of news and other information sources is vital for a civil society, as well as reflecting upon one’s own media diet or “bubble.” Due to the inherent problems in censoring media/individuals/websites, I’d personally love to see students, and the public at large, become savvy enough that at least the more egregious purveyors of misinformation wither away from lack of an audience. (This is likely too hopeful.)
I’ve integrated the guide content into a few of my instruction sessions, particularly the examples
and the RADAR Framework
. Students have been engaged and positive about the exercise; the idea of evaluating content on the web seems rather new to many.
We librarians are in a good position to support students in this way, we’ve always taught critical thinking skills in relationship to information — to evaluate sources for quality and consider their context (when was it written? who is the audience? etc.). The sense of urgency and the recognition of real life consequences are pretty heightened now. Many public and academic librarians are building resources and instruction focused on helping students/patrons navigate our current information environment.
I also did one of the Provost’s Lectures on this topic last year, some content overlaps with the guide and some is different (slides
I am grateful to Kimberly and everyone else who has contributed to the creation of this wonderful teaching resource, which anyone can use in their classes. I think that this would be an especially useful tool in a “Media and International Relations” class, as well as for courses in Communications departments. The truth is out there.
Shawn Smallman, 2017
Randall Munroe, XKCD comic, Creative Commons Attribution and noncommercial use 2.5 license