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RHE 398T Help Materials

These pages support instructors of RHE 306 and RHE 309 to teach information and digital literacy skills.

Evaluating Viewpoints

Identify Bias and Assess Credibility of Resources

What to know about teaching evaluation skills

  • Evaluating sources is not a skill students will be taught in one week or in one course - you're laying the foundation for deeper skills that will be honed in a student's specific discipline. 

  • You're teaching students the skills they need to evaluate viewpoints no matter where they find them - i.e. from vetted sources and from Twitter.

  • You will need to revisit the teaching of these skills throughout the semester. 

  • Evaluating sources is intuitive to you - that is not the case for early researchers.

  • Bias is a word that has been weaponized. When discussing bias with students, please avoid:

    • Oversimplifying bias by explaining in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation. Identity and life experience influence perspective and should be considered, but it undermines the speaker's credibility to disregard other factors. It also stymies deeper, richer analysis of what constitutes authority and perspective.

    • Avoiding the topic of bias. Bias, the word, has been stigmatized for students (think of 'bias incidents' in college or 'fake news'). Your job is to get them thinking about how we use this term and how bias affects how we perceive and participate in arguments.

Skills you'll need to reinforce throughout the semester

I avoid, come hell or high water, simplistic tests or mnemonic acronyms to use in evaluating info. You should, too. It doesn't allow for nuance and makes a complex process into a checklist.

  • Authority: Does the source have an author? Students sometimes choose sources that don't have authors. Explain why authorship is important for identifying credibility and expertise and bias.
  • Citations: Does the author make reference to evidence? Can you evaluate that evidence as well? Has it been presented fairly?
  • Scholarship: Is this the first time your students have heard the word scholarly? Peer review? Go over these concepts and talk about the scholarly conversation and why it's an essential piece of the information cycle: how it informs debates and journalism, how it can be used as evidence in positive or misleading ways when in the wrong hands.
  • Audience: Who is this article written for? Is this source for a general or expert audience? Does it inform or persuade?

This exercise is designed to get students thinking about author, audience and publication. You may use the fracking scenario below (and in the Powerpoint) or create your own.

Scenario: The Texas legislature is considering legislation to regulate fracking.

  • President, Plains Exploration and Production Company (producers of natural gas), writes a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle about the number of employees in his company working in hydraulic fracturing.
  • Professor of Geology at the University of Austin, and member of the board of the Plains Exploration and Production Company, publishes an article in the newsletter of America's Gas Alliance about studies denying a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.
  • Head of the West Texas Cotton Farmers Association, is interviewed on NPR about how the drought and fracking has impacted farming.
  • A West Texas rancher, writes a piece for Texas Monthly about fracking and its effect on livestock
  • Head of the Texas Medical Association, blogs about the impact of the chemicals used in fracking on human health.

In class activity 2

  • Modeling in class: Use your own scenario or the one provided below. Who is the author? What is his agenda? What other works has he published? What does that tell you about his perspective? What about the publication? What do the readers of this magazine think about government and business?

In class activity 3, or take home activity: This worksheet, which can be assigned in two different formats, walks students through identifying bias in an article you assign, or as a component of their own research.

Note about 'Fake News'

Sometimes people use the term fake news to describe news or media that is unreliable or bogus. There continues to be controversy over illegitimate news in social media feeds, often produced overseas for profit or political interference. 

Sometimes the term is used to describe media that is perceived as unfairly biased. This view is an insidious one. Being biased does not make a piece of information untruthful - it tells us about the perspective of those producing it. 

Additionally, you may have students who have decided that many major news outlets are fake and so they turn to a handful of outlets they've decided to trust. Being a responsible citizen means exposure to a variety of viewpoints. It means understanding what a journalist does and the importance of the fourth estate in a democracy. 

It means learning the difficult process of analyzing every piece of news on its own merits before dismissing it as fake or biased. 

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