Posted by: bluesyemre | January 29, 2018

Reliable sources: Promoting #CriticalThinking in the [Mis]information Age


Making critical thinkers of burgeoning researchers in an age of information overload and “fake news” requires three steps to help students and faculty alike reevaluate the nature of research as it is viewed in and outside of the classroom:

1. Explain the consequences. By providing examples of the impact that false or bad information can have on a community (whether it be within your own institution, within your home state, or even on a national/international level), students will be more aware of why thorough evaluation of research matters in the long term. Locating real-life examples of faulty research (e.g., Andrew Wakefield’s debunked research on autism and vaccinations) and its massive impact (the birth of the entire anti-vaccination movement) will help bring a sense of reality to this often nebulous topic. Educators may even consider charging students with finding examples of research fraud and charting its impact themselves as part of this learning process.

2. Encourage researchers to be skeptics. More often than not, students are unaware of just how much of the information they find online is intended to mislead them in some way. Even information that does not intend to be disingenuous (“misinformation”) exists in droves, thanks to a surplus of non-expert authors and open source, self-funded publishers on the web. The first component of this step is to spend time with students explaining the differences between viable information, misinformation, and disinformation (information presented with the purposeful intention of misleading the reader). Exploring the nature of bias, satire, and viral content will provide students with a stronger understanding of the pitfalls of online information use.

Following this introduction to the large variety of faulty information available to them, students should be provided with a practical tool they can use to determine the overall viability of a resource. The CRAAP test—as originally developed by librarian Molly Beestrum of Dominican University—is a great example of such a tool. By examining the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of an article, students are better able to notice potential red flags within the source that may indicate a less-than-credible source.

3. Treat research like a puzzle. Presenting opportunities for research and critical thinking that push past the boundaries of a typical, boring research paper helps increase student engagement and provides a stronger framework on which to develop the research process itself. Incorporating problem-based learning and scenario-based research into the classroom environment also gives educators more of an opportunity to expose students to real-life problems within their prospective careers or the field of study itself. Asking students to work through research-heavy tasks, such as diagnosing a hypothetical patient, developing a strategic plan for a new business, rebuilding society in the wake of a large-scale disaster, etc. requires the same research skills as a topic-based paper or presentation, but with the added benefit of bolstering critical thinking skills and exposure to real-world experiences that will help students to be more successful, thoughtful professionals after their graduation.

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