Library Battles Fake News with New Class

February 17, 2017

By Alan Piñon, University of Michigan Library


Librarians at the University of Michigan are fighting back against fake news.

The U-M Library has a long record of improving the way that students go about finding, evaluating and using information in their academic work. Now, a marked increase in the online dissemination of intentionally false information has led librarians to join with campus partners at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) to create a class aimed at helping students develop better critical evaluation skills of news items.

The one credit course, called Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to sort Fact from Fiction, will be available to students starting in the fall of 2017.

photo of undergraduate librarians

Doreen Bradley,  director of Learning Programs and Initiatives at the U-M Library, left, with Karen Downing, Education Liaison Librarian, and Alexa Pearce, head of the Social Sciences Team within the Research unit of the U-M Library

“Recent concerns about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ has us looking for ways to expand our professional efforts to help students become more critical and reflective information consumers,” said Laurie Alexander, associate university librarian for Learning and Teaching at U-M.

“Libraries have a long-standing commitment to helping users build skills to locate, evaluate and effectively use information. In this increasingly complex and dynamic information environment, we hope to further promote and advance information literacy so that students learn to approach information with a critical and questioning mind,” Alexander said.

The course takes a granular approach to a topic that has always been layered into the larger curriculum at U-M, says Angela Dillard, associate dean for undergraduate education in LSA and Earl Lewis Professor of African and Afro-American studies.

“Teaching students to be critical consumers of news and information is part of a good liberal arts education,” Dillard adds. “Students are learning this skill in all their classes. But today there is so much information that learning how to assess its validity is more challenging than ever. This course addresses that need.”

One of the course designers, Doreen Bradley, director of Learning Programs and Initiatives at the U-M Library, says misinformation, disinformation, half-truths and propaganda have always been around, but are these days so readily sharable that students encounter a much greater volume than ever before. To make sense of what is true and what is not, students need a robust set of skills that can be applied in all of the venues and environments they frequent.

“We want students to develop their own personal strategies for evaluating all of the types of information they encounter.  Knowing how to fact-check statements and claims is a valuable skill that will last them a lifetime,” Bradley said.

Students taking the class will:

  • Learn how to find trusted sources of statistics.
  • Be challenged to confront their own biases.  
  • Consider how their opinions, and the opinions of others, can affect the interpretation of news items.  
  • Practice dissecting a news graph in order to understand the message that graph is trying to convey.
  • Assess how their social media feeds influence their views, and make a plan to adjust those feeds to improve their understanding of the world around them.
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Last modified: 02/17/2017