Not a special topic: information credibility and trustworthiness

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It all started with caramelized onions. This spring, I taught a special topics graduate course called Information Credibility & Trustworthiness in 21st Century. I came up with the idea earlier in the winter for three main reasons : the first and most obvious is our current socio-political context – living in Canada’s national capital, being constantly exposed to political talk and happenings, from Trudeau to Trump, to Brexit, and May. The second reason is that I had already been exposed to information credibility literature first identified to me while working with a student studying information and sponsorship on mommy blogs. Finally, I teach resource discovery and am regularly struck by how hard it is to get information consumers to assess the hits that turn up from their Google search.

This post summarizes my evaluation of the course from my instructor’s point of view. I’m sharing the course documents (reading list, course evaluation, course slides) in case you are thinking about or are already working on a similar course at your iSchool. Because of the condensed term (6 weeks), I organized the course in seminar style such that we had 7 face-to-face meetings, and 5 online classes. Eleven graduate students in total, of whom four were Communications students, while the remainder were Information Studies students.  In no particular order, my think-aloud self-evaluation:

  • Dealing with information credibility through the themes of ‘fake news’ and ‘fake science’ was effective, as these topics helped ground the theory in real world situations. Not to mention of course, there is already so much buzz (noise, even) online.
  • Required readings were good; they worked reasonably well and can always be improved by adding more material.
  • Course was largely pitched ‘informationally’ – i.e., to the individual consumer and their page or resource- level interactions. It was not designed to be a policy discussion in context of political economy of information, although some of those themes inevitably came up.
  • Giving a framework up front was helpful, but a bit too limiting finally. Students tended not to stray too far from that.
  • The two guest speakers were effective in getting across perspectives that I could not represent nearly as well – (thanks again, to you both):  a former news and government information librarian, turned researcher-librarian consultant;  and the manager of communications and marketing for Canada Science Publishing (formerly our national science agency’s in-house publisher, now an independent not-for-profit)
  • I often conclude courses wondering how I could improve the evaluation scheme. In this case, the marks for doing readings worked (student read and responded to the readings, making online and in-class discussions much richer); the Believe It or Not exercise was useful to launch the online discussions – but I might organize those differently another time; the presentations on the popular science user questions got to the key themes, but more explanation or framing still needed. The papers are still being written!

This topic should be considered as an ongoing elective in our MIS program. It has wide appeal, the communications students brought another ‘media’ perspective which was sharp and useful. I was satisfied with my decision to keep information literacy and critical thinking and learning literature mostly out of this course. Those topics are too big and are already their own course. This focus relied much more on the Hilligoss & Rieh (2008) and Lucassen et. al (2013) frameworks. I would love to teach it again, and as with the best teaching, learned a great deal for myself also. If you end up using any of this material in your teaching, please be professionally courteous and acknowledge my contribution 😉 And thanks to impressive students for staying with it, and keeping things interesting!

 

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