There has been no want of emotion or zeal in America the past few months. Despite all of the moral and political issues that divide the country, there is one uncontroversial conclusion we can reach with a near universal consensus: the growth and spread of misinformation represent a legitimate threat to our students’ future.
In a recent study performed by Stanford University, fake news is defined as “stories that originated in social media or the news media... that have no factual basis, but are presented as facts.”
When students work on documents in G Suite for Education, they might not yet realize that they have tools for researching and citing references and articles at their fingertips. Anytime students are in Google Docs, they can select Tools from the top toolbar, and choose Explore in the drop-down menu. An Explore panel will open with links to resources based on the keyword content typed in the document. Students can review topics, images and related research that could be pertinent to research on an assignment.
Here are a few tips that you can use to help your students avoid fake news and attain credible resources when exploring research in G Suite for Education.
Always rely on multiple sources
There’s an old Latin phrase, “Hominem unius libri timeo,” which translates to “I fear the man of one book.” It is always important to rely on multiple sources for research. Agreement on this point, as far as I can find, is ubiquitous. Examples include the Association for Supervision of Curriculum and Development, Study.com and Scientific American. Moreover, it’s additionally a decent practice to synthesize conflicting sources and try to come to conclusions where they overlap. This is particularly useful when sources seem to leave out crucial information in their account of events.
Avoid highly speculative sources
There’s no good in using multiple sources if they’re all illegitimate. Inasmuch as it is possible, legitimate research sources avoid the realm of speculation, because there is a world of difference between fact and opinion.
Facts are generally reducible to the basic questions of who/what/when/where/why/how of events and occurrences. News stories should tell you near certainties concerning who was involved, what happened, when it happened, where it happened why it happened, and how it happened. Exercise caution with “why” and “how,” however, because they run the greatest risk of speculation, which is discouraged by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Resources should refrain from speculating on individuals’ motives for decisions or actions unless they are commented on directly by original sources. Always be suspicious of sources that draw further conclusions, especially if it tells you more about how to think or feel about a topic than it does about the who/what/when/where/why/how of the topic itself.
Lastly, be cautious of resources that urge action. This is a common trait of opinion articles (like this blog post!), which sometimes present helpful information on topics, but isn’t designed to be news as such.
Avoid sources with sensational, evocative and provocative headlines
Since resources have the task of presenting basic information on the who/what/when/where/why/how of events, they should not be predominantly written to engender an emotional response. Question articles with titles that are written with sensational, evocative and/or provocative language, because this type of rhetoric is a clear indication that they want to trigger an emotional response or have an agenda beyond informing the public, rather than just providing information. Pay particular attention to hyperbolic verb usage when reviewing sources.
If students learn these tips, they’ll establish a basic foundation for avoiding fake news when researching and exploring information in G Suite for Education. Obviously, there is much more to be said on the topic, so be sure to take my advice and continue your research elsewhere!
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