We live in the age of information. Thanks to the internet, we now have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Just think about it; cooking, philosophy, engineering, literature, anything you could possibly imagine can likely be found using a simple google search. It’s pretty astounding when you take the time to consider it. Of course, many of us have learned the hard way that not everything you find online is reliable or true.
This presents educators with a difficult problem. The internet is an inescapable part of our students’ lives. As they grow, students will turn to online resources to help them navigate their education and build upon what they’ve learned. Yet at the same time, it’s human nature to focus on information that reinforces our preexisting worldview, and many of us passively ingest all kinds of media while browsing social apps. So, how do we teach our students to be responsible consumers of information?
Avoiding the TRAAP
Developing information literacy is not something which happens overnight. There are many branches to the subject, and like most things, it takes practice before students get adept at recognizing misinformation. 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 using the TRAAP protocol:
- Timely: How timely is the information they’re ingesting? Older sources can be misinformed or contain ideas which 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 which 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 which 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.