What if we called it fact-checking?

This all started[1] when I read the Chronicle of Higher Education blog post[2] about Truthy, an Indiana University project that analyzes Twitter memes to detect when users deliberately game the system. Aside from its intended purpose, this service helps explain how information can be manipulated by visualizing that manipulation. Granted, most of the time our issue isn’t that students run into manipulated information, but talking about how information gets made is a useful way to talk about sources and confidence and authority, etc. and why these things should be important to any info consumer.

The difficulty of pinning down issues of truth is apparent in the rise of tools available for either examining popularity rankings or checking facts of published information (PolitiFact, FactCheck.org).

Okay, so that reminded me of a NY Times article[3] from awhile back, on fact-checking back in the day, which made me think, “Isn’t that what we really want students to learn?” Fact-checking is nothing more than a habit of mind—looking askance at nearly every facet of an article and thinking about where you could verify or disprove. Sounds like critical thinking to me. I’ll bet if the job was called “critical thinker” fact-checkers would get paid a lot more.

So what if we present this desired result to faculty as an opportunity for co-teaching? We could work with faculty members to find or create a piece of information for their students to think critically about. I used a similar exercise when I worked with the Daily Texan’s copy editors’ workshop, creating a fake article[4] for students to use to familiarize themselves with various library info resources[5]. If you opt to create a fake page, the faculty member would guide the copy to make sure that specific topics she wants students to grasp are included. (We don’t have a local copy but I’d rather like to see the 2009 article “Fact check au jus.”[6]) The librarian would create a list of suggested information resources for reference, but would not necessarily supply that list to the students. Unlike in the Daily Texan exercise, it would be better teaching *not* to identify the “checkable facts” for students.

So, for discussion—a fact-checking exercise for a 50-minute one-shot, a six-degrees exercise


[1] And *that* started me thinking about a six-degrees-of-separation exercise, following a trail of references from article A to article F, filling in the articles in the middle, in order to demonstrate the iterative nature of lit searching.

[2] Kaya, Travis, 2010. Separating the truth from the truthy. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 30, 2010. http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Separating-the-Truth-From-the/27321/. See also: Metaxas, Panagiotis Takis and Eni Mustafaraj, 2010. From obscurity to prominence in minutes: political speech and real-time search. In Web Science Conf. 2010, April 26-27, Raleigh, NC. http://journal.webscience.org/317/

[3] Heffernan, Virginia, 2010. What ‘fact-checking’ means online. The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-medium-t.html

[4] http://bit.ly/btfXoV

[5] the Pink Page

[6] Russo, M. F. and Daugherty, A. L., 2009 Fact Check au jus: A Fact Finding Activity. In R. Sittler and D. Cook (Eds.), The Library Instruction Cookbook. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

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