Part 2: Polarization and New Techniques for Information Evaluation

Do We Need a New Technique for Information Evaluation?

For years information professionals have created catchy ways to teach students systems for evaluation of information. School librarians have focused especially on websites and other online sources. Acronyms of all sorts, like BAT, CRAP, CARP, CRAAP, PROVEN, and even A CRAB, provide a checklist of important points to check the source’s legitimacy. But in the words of Joyce Valenza, “Enough with the CRAAP: We’re just not doing it right.”

In my previous post, I highlighted polarization and misinformation in the US. Understanding the climate, do we need a new way to teach the evaluation of information? We might wonder what works to combat motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the Backfire Effect. What happens to research when students’ beliefs strengthen instead of change when met with contradictory evidence?

How Important Is Authority?

Many of our evaluation strategies and acronyms include evaluating the author or the authority. The Association of College and Research Libraries’ Framework addresses a source’s authority differently. It posits that “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual…Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.” At present, however, our students, parents, and communities come with something different from an “informed skepticism” and are sometimes missing the “openness to new perspectives.”

Do Certain Online Domain Types Show Overt Bias?

Along with the acronyms, school librarians often explain how to scrutinize online information based on domains like .gov or .edu. We often recommend education and government sites for their accuracy and reliability. But we have to remember that one group might consider reliable the domain categories that another group might criticize for bias. The Stanford History Education Group finds that students “Applied out-of-date and in some cases incorrect strategies (such as accepting or rejecting a site because of its top-level domain).”

Do Educational Institutions and Educators Lean Left?

Conservatives often scrutinize education sites with the .edu domain as being liberal. The Chronicle of Higher Ed entertains the question in “Is Academe Awash in Liberal Bias?” Some conclusions are that the political views of faculty depend upon the discipline. The article cites a study by Gross and Simmons that “found the highest concentrations of conservative faculty in business and health sciences…” And “According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the two most popular majors are business and health sciences — the same fields with the highest concentrations of conservative faculty members.”

The Chronicle also points out that these studies are “rife with methodological errors. Most obvious is their unrepresentative focus on elite, private, northeastern universities — institutions that educate only a small minority of undergraduates.” The bottom line is that education sites can be biased.

Does Government Information Depend on the Party in Charge?

Another domain we have often taught as reliable is government or .gov. However, government information really depends on the affiliation of those in charge. Nathan Cortez, in The Chicago-Kent Law Review, describes specific examples of removing government data, manipulating data, censoring climate science, scrubbing terminology, and weaponizing transparency:

For example, HHS officials distributed a one-page “style guide” instructing budget officials at various subagencies (the CDC, NIH, and FDA) to avoid using the words “vulnerable,” “diversity,” and “entitlement.” Similarly, officials at a budget meeting advised federal employees to avoid the phrases “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

Therefore, government information must be evaluated for accuracy and bias, just as in other domains.

Finding Solutions

We must train students to be patient and persevere to dig deeper beyond the surface answers. We  must teach learners how to consult the broader scope of sources on a topic to check the facts. Additionally, we can help students truly define the authority of the source.

The good news is we have many great resources to help teach these concepts. All Sides lesson plans feature materials about news from the spectrum of sources. Another resource is from the AASL Learning Library; try the online continuing education presentation “Fight the Fake! Teaching Information Literacy through Media Analysis.” Finally, If you are looking for a practical book to help with teaching and learning, try Fact vs. Fiction by Jennifer LaGarde.

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Author: Hannah Byrd Little

Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.



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