Can a New Approach to Information Literacy Reduce Digital Polarization?


I just read this article in EdSurge News about a instruction manual written by Caulfield —called Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers—and it is of great interest to me since I have been writing a piece about Fake News for NDLA this Easter. In this article, there is also a reference to a keynote by danah boyd, that I have commented in an earlier post.

The article starts off by saying that The internet doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but it should—to give users the skills to separate truth from falsehood so they can distinguish between propaganda and the indisputable and confirmable. Caulfield says that “People aren’t really a Democrat or a Republican or even an authoritarian or an anarchist,” he says. “People are many different things. And there’s a part of almost everybody that likes to know what the truth of the matter is.”

I’m sharing more from the article that I found interesting here. To read the whole article see here.

A lot of people are worried that students are just these gullible rubes believing everything,” he said, but that’s not what he typically sees. In a recent blog post, he described a student who dismissed the right-leaning Breitbart News because it is funded by the Mercers hoping to use it to influence political debate, and was equally dismissive of The Washington Post because it is owned by Jeff Bezos, who has given money to Democrats. Those situations are hardly equivalent, he says, but can make it easy for information consumers to simply throw up their hands.

“You can get focused so much on the agenda and the supposed agenda of people telling you things,” he adds, “that you lose a lot of the gradations of true and false.”

Caulfield instruction manual—called Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers— is worth reading in class. One of the exercises is one where students learn how to do a reverse Google image search to determine the origin of a picture.

Caulfield is now working with top leaders at 11 colleges and universities to test his teaching approach. The plan is to use a measure of “civic online reasoning” developed by the Stanford History Education Group, a research team that made international headlines late last year when they found that students get low marks in judging the credibility of the info running through their social feeds.

The professor hopes that students exposed to his fact-checking approach will improve their civic reasoning, and that the “rigorous assessment” will lead more colleges to adopt his manual.

And then maybe those students will go out and politely correct, say, the misinformed post sent by a fast-clicking parent or uncle—or at least think twice about sharing. “That can help stop the virality that happens in the outrage cycle,” says Bassette, of the University of Mary Washington. “It will take time—it’s not going to be undone immediately.”

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