2020 was quite the year, and with it came a lot of “big questions” about law, information, and education. I intend to write about some of these questions this semester, and I’d like to start with some thoughts on teaching information literacy in this new era of mis/disinformation.
Naturally, I started thinking about this issue more critically last fall, and in mid-November, I attended a presentation on “The Role of Law, Policy and Technology in Countering the Flow of Misinformation” hosted by my alma mater UW and its Center for an Informed Public (CIP), an interdisciplinary collaboration by the information and law schools, whose mission is “to resist strategic misinformation, promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse.” During that presentation, I posed the following question to two UW law professors affiliated with CIP: What does the explosion of mis/disinformation mean for education? Can you opine as to how we can seek to address this problem in the law classroom? How can we seek to help students become better able to evaluate/interpret information as we enter a time of mis/disinformation we’ve never before seen?
Like I said, it’s a BIG question, and I certainly didn’t expect these professors to have all the answers. But they did offer some helpful insight, and fortunately, other educators are opining too. Earlier this month, for instance, Beth McMurtrie of The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed teaching in the age of disinformation and tackling disinformation with media literacy. And previously, Beckie Supiano, also of The Chronicle of Higher Education, asked whether teaching students to read like fact checkers was the solution for combatting online misinformation. There, she highlighted a Stanford study conducted by Sam Wineburg, which suggests that teaching students to “get into a critical frame of mind” and “think like [professional] fact checkers” is indeed part of the solution.
OK, so how precisely can we do that? During an AALS conference session, I posed this very question to some fellow law librarians, and several cited the CRAAP test (standing for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) as the preferred approach to teaching information literacy. But is this approach still working? In a recent LA Times op-ed, Sam Wineburg deems it antiquated and suggests we “cut the CRAAP and stop teaching ineffective strategies.”
Going further, Michael Caulfield of Washington State University at Vancouver asserts that teaching students to discern fact from fiction “won’t get to the root of broader social problems.” So, what will? What else should we be doing? He opines that information literacy projects can and should be used to improve civic engagement, which is yet another important piece of the solution. Others, like Molly Kerby of Western Kentucky University, have similarly focused on “the importance of turning out graduates who are both civic-minded and media literate.” And the law professors I asked? Well, they appeared to agree too. In response to my initial question, Ryan Calo called attention to the importance of community engagement and pointed to the CIP resources linked below.
What can be taken from all of this? First, it is high time to critically evaluate our existing strategies and find out what works (and what doesn’t). What are the legal information literacy strategies we’re teaching? And are those strategies indeed outdated? And for what reason(s)? And second, we need to actively and continuously seek out ways to connect our improved strategies to equally and critically important community engagement objectives, so that our impact reaches beyond our students and into the real world.
References & Resources
University of Washington, The Role of Law, Policy and Technology in Countering the Flow of Misinformation, YouTube (Nov. 17, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI637rjQ0dw&feature=youtu.be.
UW Center for an Informed Public, https://www.cip.uw.edu/ (last visited Jan. 25, 2021).
Beth McMurtrie, Teaching in the Age of Disinformation, The Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 12, 2021), https://www.chronicle.com/article/teaching-in-the-age-of-disinformation.
Beth McMurtrie, Teaching: Tackling Disinformation with Media Literacy, The Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 12, 2021), https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2021-01-21.
Beckie Supiano, Students Fall for Misinformation Online. Is Teaching Them to Read Like Fact Checkers the Solution?, The Chronicle of Higher Education (Apr. 25, 2019), https://www.chronicle.com/article/students-fall-for-misinformation-online-is-teaching-them-to-read-like-fact-checkers-the-solution/.
Sam Wineburg & Nadav Ziv, Op-Ed: Why can’t a generation that grew up online spot the misinformation in front of them?, LA Times (Nov. 6, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-11-06/colleges-students-recognize-misinformation.
University of Washington, Community Approaches to Misinformation, YouTube (Jan. 13, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7PidZb8ffU&feature=emb_imp_woyt.
UW Center for an Informed Public Projects & Resources, https://www.cip.uw.edu/resources/ (last visited Jan. 25, 2021).