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Media Literacy

Combating disinformation with media literacy


“We’re Mitch McConnell people,” she says of the Kentucky Republican who was Senate majority leader during the Trump administration.

I interviewed Kerby while sharing my latest story about teaching in an age of disinformation. Many of the academics I spoke to had spent their careers researching and teaching about the rise of propaganda and political polarization. Kerby is on a campus that has seen the effects of these forces on its students.

“You are overwhelmed. They don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, ”she said. “I think this is going to be a really big topic in higher education.”

As an associate professor who has taught a range of topics including public problem solving and reinterpreting citizenship, Kerby has battled confusion and skepticism in her courses.

In a 2019 course, she taught fake news and civil discourse, with students telling stories about terrorists hiding in caravans of immigrants crossing the border into Mexico. “They have these really obscure places to get their messages,” she said. “You come up with these outrageous things that don’t make sense in my head. What I’m afraid of is that it will keep getting worse. “

Kerby, who works in the Department of Criminology and Sociology, has come up with some effective strategies for teaching information literacy to students, including Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, which describes ways to trace information back to its original source. “It works 90 percent,” she says. Still, she admitted that she had no idea the long-term effects of such training on student mindsets.

“Being a college professor is not like being in a construction where you build a house and you can go over and see it in six weeks,” she said. “It’s more like 30 years later.”

Kerby is also the Headmaster’s Assistant overseeing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in academic affairs. She spends a lot of time thinking about the importance of producing civic and media literate graduates. Three years ago, she and a few colleagues began an experiment to find out how to most effectively teach these skills to students. For example, can a class that focuses on information literacy make a difference? And what changes when students take an entire course on the subject like she taught them on fake news?

The researchers are now analyzing the data from the experiment, she said, and not surprisingly find that the more time is spent learning literacy strategies, “the better you are”. She hopes researchers can also find the “sweet spot” – maybe a grade or two – where students can acquire enough skills to make them more sophisticated information consumers.

Meanwhile, Kerby hopes to write a book on reshaping higher education that puts more emphasis on civic education and working with different groups of people.

Do you need help imparting information literacy? Ask a librarian

For my story, I also spoke to Robert Detmering and Amber Willenborg of the University of Louisville Libraries, who indicated that librarians are well positioned to support professors who feel ill-prepared to navigate these waters.

They fear that too few universities are paying attention to the importance of imparting such skills to all students. “Most institutions are like us,” says Detmering, “where it is piecemeal but not systematic.” He noted, however, “It is now much easier to talk to faculties about information literacy because disinformation is such an important part of national Conversation is. “

Detmering and Willenborg have put together a number of guides on civic literacy that cover a wide range of topics, such as: B. How to evaluate expertise, understand the impact of hidden algorithms on what we see online, how a fact checker thinks, and identify misleading messages.

More information literacy resources

  • A number of professors besides Kerby have told me they use Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, a free textbook written by Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University in Vancouver.
  • Sam Wineburg, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, has conducted research showing that many of the strategies students learn to evaluate online sources are out of date. Read Beckie’s informative 2019 story to learn more about his work and recommendations.
  • Science faculty may want to read about the work of Douglas Duncan, a faculty emeritus in the Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Duncan wrote to me that he had been doing a mini-course “Real vs. Fake. Science vs. Pseudoscience, “which teaches students to” say who is trying to fool them about climate change, astrology, medicine, etc. ” We had fun exposing clairvoyants, explaining how astrology works through psychology, and the like. But since the disinformation has become more serious, I have expanded this to a full freshmen seminar. “
  • The Debunking Handbook 2020, written by a group of 22 scholars, summarizes the problem of disinformation and how to address it. It was recommended by David Dunning, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who studies misconception.

Thanks for reading teaching. If you have any suggestions or ideas, please email us at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.


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