Activities for Beginning to Develop Critical Consumers of Information
To following are brief descriptions of activities we designed to help reach our objectives:
Discuss personal experiences, or experiences of people they know, of being lied to or scammed, and how the person(s) doing it managed to pull one over one us. What strategies did they use to convince us? Extrapolate from this to introduce common persuasive techniques before moving to real life examples in advertisements and short passages of editorials.
For each article type—agenda, factual, and editorial—have students finish by creating their own short articles whereby they demonstrate knowledge of the features of each. Swap with other groups and see if students can correctly identify the bias.
In piloting some of these lessons and activities, we have found our students to be generally successful in identifying the various types of information, purposes, and biases when given explicit instruction. As always, it is easier to apply these skills in the controlled environment of the classroom with the instructor’s prompts then it is to transfer them to their real lives. For that reason, I’d emphasize bringing in authentic information sources that match closely to the way they actually consume news, including cable TV, social media sites, and radio stories.
Finally, have fun teaching information literacy! Articles from the satirical journal The Onion, outlandish claims in sources like the National Enquirer, and media clips of politicians unsuccessfully spinning a story are entertaining and fun starting points before moving onto the more insidious and subtle forms of misinformation. As serious as this work is, it need not be dull. Done right, it can be engaging and relevant, and can bring in contemporary issues that students care about.
Prooijen, J. W. (2017). Why Education Predicts Decreased Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(1), 50-58.
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