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Focus on the Facts: News Literacy in the Classroom

In the Spring of 2017, IRSC Librarians decided to take on the problem of a lack of news literacy skills amongst students. After the Stanford study confirmed what librarians and instructors have been seeing in daily interactions with community college students, IRSC Librarians developed a multi-prong approach to dealing with the problem that included faculty outreach, lesson plans for one shots and credit classes, and learning objects that can be embedded in a variety of courses. As a starting point, IRSC Librarians identified the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education frame of Authority is Constructed and Contextual as the most relevant and important goal for student learning and created lesson plans that focus on authority for use in different library instructional settings.

We began by seeking out participation and collaboration with instructional faculty. We offered a presentation to faculty in IRSC’s Institute for Academic Excellence where the problem and history were explored and solutions to be used in the classroom were offered. After presenting the issue and potential tools to help teach students how to evaluate news sources, IRSC Librarians had the exposure and faculty buy-in needed to expand the news literacy campaign.

To capitalize on the demand, an option to request a news literacy lesson as part of or as a standalone one-shot information literacy instruction session was added to the instruction request form. These one-shots allowed IRSC Librarians the opportunity to incorporate news literacy instruction into a variety of classes, including SLS1101 (the required Student Success course), and ENC1101. The lesson plan for these one-shots includes showing the students a fake news source or asking them to discover one on their own. A discussion and/or video about the fake news phenomenon illustrates the larger problem with examples. Students then analyze the news source using evaluation techniques to examine the authority, objectivity, rationale, publication or last updated date, accuracy, and relevance to the student’s information need or assignment.

Finally, IRSC Librarians teach one-credit research skills classes. IRSC Librarians have tried two approaches in different sessions of this course:

  • For the first approach, the librarian presented the students with six news stories from Facebook. The students were asked to evaluate each news article to determine if it is factual and reliable and to provide justifications for their conclusions. To do this, students were instructed to evaluate the sources based on several criteria including authority, objectivity, relevancy, and currency. They were encouraged to investigate the source by finding information about the author/news outlet included within the source and from independent sources like Google searches and LinkedIn profiles. Students were asked to try to find another source online that corroborates the information presented in the news article from Facebook to help determine if it was factual.
  • In the second approach, students were to find their own news article. Students could search anywhere to find their news article, which was then used for several assignments throughout the blended course. Students searched the library databases for articles related to their news story in an effort to corroborate or disprove the facts included in it. Students then learned about evaluating sources using the RADAR criteria. Students evaluated a list of “fake news” articles provided as a group assignment. The students then evaluated the news story they chose earlier and wrote an essay explaining why it did or did not pass the RADAR criteria.

In conjunction with the well-attended faculty presentation, we created a LibGuide with information, tools, and a bibliography for instructional faculty use that was accessed over 945 times between April and August 2017. The tools include an evaluation infographic created using Canva and a video which describes the various evaluation criteria students should use when choosing a source. A Guide on the Side tutorial that walks students through evaluating a real website using each of the RADAR criteria was also included.

This poster provides an overview of IRSC’s news literacy program and include engaging visual examples of supplementary resources created by IRSC Librarians, student work, and sample assignments that can be scaled to any news literacy program. A brief review of news literacy research and future goals is also included.

This poster was also expanded as an article in Reference Librarian