In my infinite and devious wisdom, I made up an assignment that tests, sorry, ENCOURAGES and DEVELOPS students’ abilities to assess what they read online.
It includes a number of traps for heffalumps, such as directing them to a site which expresses an opinion that they probably agree with is credible when it has no sources. It asks if a badly designed, ugly website is credible, and if the think the Nation is transparent about its sources and authors.
One of the basic traps is one labelled “Is expressing an opinion you disagree with the same as not being a credible source?” It is distressing, but no longer amazing to me how many of them tumble in. “Kate Harding is a feminist, so she cannot be a credible source.” AUGH. “Naomi Klein does not like capitalism, so she might have misreported her interview with Michael Moore.” (This even though you can CLICK to listen to the full audio of the interview.) Kill me now.
My concern here is how much they are relying on the google to find them information, bypassing gatekeepers like librarians and peer-reviewers in journals. I know this seems topsy-turvy, but I try to explain that going through a database where you can check the box for “Peer-reviewed only” is a much more efficient way of evaluating information than going to google, finding some random site, and then trying to figure out, say, who the heck Juan Cole is.
Of course, trying to figure it out is the first step in becoming a critical thinker, so if they actually did that, I would be reasonably happy. In this current group, however, I have FIVE students who told me, unequivocally, that chomsky.info has no information about Chomsky.
Seriously? That site should totally be taken down for false advertising, then. One guy, a little smarter and a whole lot more arrogant than the others, went to wikipedia for what must have been 5 seconds and concluded that Chomsky was a “philosopher of sorts”.
Would any of them use any writing by Chomsky in an essay? Of course not, and not for the obvious reason that it is unlikely they could understand one word in three of what he says. It’s because he is an ANARCHIST, and that makes him unreliable.
Fox News, on the other hand, is totally fine, because it says right there on the website that it is “fair and balanced”.