Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tools and techniques we can use to help them discern truth from fiction.
Start by teaching your students to judge information and build information literacy skills using the TRAAP protocol:
- Timely: How timely is the information they’re ingesting? Older sources can be misinformed or contain ideas that have since been proven false. A recent source usually has the most up-to-date information and ideas.
- Relevance: Look for sources that are directly related to your topic and clearly discuss their information. Sources that only mention your topic in passing will probably not examine them in much depth.
- Authority: What are the author’s qualifications? If the author is known and considered an expert, then there’s a good chance they know what they’re talking about. If the author is unknown, or doesn’t have a background in the subject, they should be treated with more scrutiny.
- Accuracy: It’s easy to make assertions, but are they backed up with facts? All good sources should be backed up with citations to other reliable sources. A lack of citations should be a warning sign to any discerning student.
- Purpose: It’s important that students ask themselves what this source is trying to accomplish. Is it trying to sell them something? Was it produced by a company or organization that may have a vested interest in perpetuating a particular worldview? If so, it should probably be treated with more skepticism. A good resource should be based on facts, not opinions.
Fact or fiction
Once your students know the TRAAP protocol, put their information literacy skills to the test with this article about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Though the article is clearly satire, it has been known to fool unwary readers in the past. Have your students apply what they’ve learned and then decide whether the website is based on fact or fiction! While this is only one small lesson in spotting misinformation, it’s a fun way to teach your students how to find reliable and factual information in the messy world of the internet.
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