How to teach information literacy in the age of lies


Eday after day, critics of the US president denounce his penchant for “false or misleading claims”, while he and his supporters retaliate with accusations of “fake news”. It’s no wonder that those of us who teach worry more than ever about information literacy.

The proliferation of misperceptions makes it more difficult for us to do our jobs in the college classroom. Many faculty members believe that a key part of our role is to help students understand and thrive in the world as it is. But in order to do that, don’t we need to find some kind of common understanding of this world? To be successful in college and in life afterward, students must be able to distinguish right from wrong. And clearly, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

I would say that whatever your discipline you should be teaching information literacy – the ability to understand, assess, evaluate, and apply information to solve problems or answer questions – in as part of your lessons. It is a necessary skill to teach, even if you don’t see educating students to navigate the outside world as part of your mission as an instructor.

Here are some ways to incorporate essential information literacy into your classes this fall.

Looking for teaching inspiration or specific strategies? David Gooblar, a former lecturer in rhetoric at the University of Iowa and now associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University, writes about classroom issues in these pages. Here is a sample of his recent columns.

Start by talking to experts. Librarians on your campus have been thinking about these questions for a long time, and many now regularly collaborate with faculty members to teach students research skills. Contact the librarians before the start of the semester. Talk about your course objectives and ask for their suggestions on how to incorporate information literacy into your teaching and homework.

A 2017 essay in The ChronicleWe have noted that in recent years the burden of teaching information literacy to undergraduates has fallen disproportionately on first-year composition instructors. “Compulsory composition courses,” he said, “have often taken on the function of teaching students how to think critically about subjects and how to assess sources.” But learning to find accurate information and to distinguish what is true from what is false is an integral part of most lessons and most lesson assignments.

Of course, you can always ask students to spend one or two class sessions in the campus library, learning directly from the librarians. But aim for more than that. Look for ways to bring attention to Information Literacy at various times throughout the semester. This doesn’t necessarily mean cramming a lot of extra material into your already crowded schedule.

Focus more on the claims being made and less on the source itself. Most likely, your homework already requires students to find and apply information, whether it is looking for secondary sources in the library, evaluating the results of an experiment, or applying the correct formula from it. ‘a manual. But take it a step further: break an assignment into stages and, for each stage, provide a checkpoint – an opportunity for you to guide students in the wise management of information.

What sort of orientation?

Faculty members often make the mistake of teaching information literacy by focusing on the data source itself, argues Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networking learning at Washington State University in Vancouver. Students are given a list of basic questions and are trained to go through the list for each source they find:

  • What type of source is it?
  • If the source is online, does it have a .com, .org, .gov, or .edu domain name?
  • Where on the ideological spectrum is the publication located?
  • What are the references of the author of the article?

In a 2017 blog post, Caulfield wrote that putting so much emphasis on the source – as opposed to claims in the source – can quickly lead to nonsense: “To put it in perspective, you received a questionable letter. and you just spent 20 minutes -checking the postman. And then you opened the letter and found it was a signed letter from your mother. “Ah,” you say, “but the postman is a Republican!” “”

Credibility checklists are well intentioned but often ineffective. It is more important for students to be able to assess the allegations than the sources per se. To assess the veracity of allegations from a given source, students often need to consult other sources.

Caulfield’s promotion of “lateral reading” – looking to various sources to verify a claim – echoes the 2017 findings of a much-discussed Stanford History Education Group study. The study, which involved a group of Stanford undergraduates and a group of history professors, found that undergraduates and professors were less successful at spotting fraudulent claims online than auditors from professional facts. While history students and teachers spent a lot of time scrutinizing sources, looking for clues to trust them or not, fact-checkers identified flawed claims by looking for corroborating information elsewhere. Students and historians were much more likely to be duped by a source that appeared to be authoritative; the fact checkers, well, checked it out.

In addition to sideloading, Caulfield suggests two other strategies for verifying questionable claims. Teach your students to:

  • Look for previous fact-checking work on a particular issue. It’s pretty self-explanatory. If someone has already refuted an allegation, students should be able to find the correction online.
  • Follow a complaint “upstream”. It’s about following the trail of quotes. If a source makes a complaint, where does the complaint come from? If there is a source provided, now is the time for the student to investigate that source. The idea is to get as close as possible to the original source of information, in order to be able to more clearly assess its plausibility.

In a fully networked world – and in the age of Google Scholar, the world of college scholarship is equally networked – our students have access to a wealth of information that can help them assess whether something is true or not. false. Such practices are useful whether students are evaluating a questionable report or a scientific result that seems too good to be true.

Teaching good research practice is certainly not enough. As social media researcher Danah Boyd argued, teaching information literacy must go beyond preparing students to assess sources and allegations. They must also be able to self-assess. In a keynote address she gave last March to SXSW EDU, Boyd criticized traditional ideas of information literacy as being naïve in the face of a complex and rapidly evolving threat – as attempting to “assert its authority.” on epistemology ”.

While admitting that there are no easy answers, she argues for a refocus on interpreting information – on the different ways we make sense of the information we encounter. She recommends teaching students confirmation bias, selective attention, and other ways our sense of truth can tell more about us than the information itself. Instructors, she says, should look for ways to elicit and examine these trends in the classroom through “cognitive strengthening exercises” – activities designed to “help students recognize their own fault lines.” Information literacy therefore goes beyond determining what is true and what is false to an investigation into why we are so easily deceived and why we are so easily mistaken.

Such questions may seem beyond the scope of your course. Don’t have enough on your plate to teach your subject?

But I would say Information Literacy is one of those meta skills behind the ability to master any subject. How can students be successful in any intellectual pursuit if they cannot distinguish what is true from what is false?

David Gooblar is a lecturer in the rhetoric department at the University of Iowa. He writes a column on teaching for The Chronicle and short Pedagogy Not related, a website for college professors who share teaching strategies. To find more advice on teaching, browse its previous columns. here.


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