Where to Start in Developing Critical Consumers of Information (Part 1)
by Kristi Kaeppel
Last year, in the media frenzy of the election year, my colleagues and I sat down to consider how we could develop our adult students to be better consumers of information, thus avoiding falling prey to sensationalist, misleading, or downright false news. We knew we had an opportunity—perhaps even a responsibility—to hone the critical thinking skills of our students in a way that could have a direct impact on their political reasoning and voting behaviors. Yet, it was difficult to know where to begin. Many fake news curricula that we reviewed emphasized a combination of analytical and technical skills such as reverse image searching to see the source of a photograph and using a variety of fact-checking sources and methods. As important as these skills are, for our learners in Adult Basic Education, we wanted to start with broader habits of mind. Talking among ourselves, we recognized that if we could get our students to do a seemingly simple thing—slow down, pause, and consider that information may be skewed, biased, or intentionally fabricated—that we would be successful in a giving them a crucial first step in information literacy.
While susceptibility to misleading or fake news is found across educational levels, there is research to suggest our adult basic education students may be particularly vulnerable. Prooijen (2016) found that lower educational levels are correlated with an increased belief in conspiracy theories, in part because low educational levels are associated with feelings of powerlessness and lack of control, which increase susceptibility to false information. Additionally, the tendency to assign simple explanations to complex issues (the kind found in conspiracy theories and in fake news articles) decreases as one’s educational attainment rises (Proojien, 2016). All of this suggests that as ABE instructors, we are uniquely positioned to help counter our students’ susceptibility to believe inaccurate information.
Recognizing that we needed to start with broad, meta-cognitive skills to achieve our mission, we decided on the following as objectives for our students in developing their information literacy:
Part 2, to be posted in April, will describe activities and related resources.
Read our first post.
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