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DART Recap – Authority is Constructed and Contextual

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 4:02pm

The format for the latest DART session was an open forum to discuss one of the frames in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, Authority is Constructed and Contextual. While there were not specific articles that circulated prior to the meeting, participants were encouraged to explore threads within two related ALA listservs, the ILI-L and the ACRL Frame.

The discussion generated and explored multiple complex, open-ended questions: How do we instruct students in distinguishing between news media and entertainment media? What are strategies for helping students to navigate the tension between innate bias and journalistic ethics and ideals, particularly in the current landscape of distrust for the media? How do we enable students to evaluate peer-review and persuasive research agendas within varying disciplinary frameworks and norms? What is the difference or interplay between expertise and authority? And overall, how do we foster critical thinking skills that transfer beyond the classroom?

Sorry to disappoint, but I will not be providing any tidy answers to these questions within this blog post. I can, however, share some potential ideas for activities and strategies that folks discussed having used or seen in relation to these issues.

  • Media Diet: Have students map out their media diets. What media/information sources do they readily consume? The diet metaphor can be stretched as far as you like (daily intake; splurge sources; holes in your diet; allergies/intolerance). Use the maps to guide or generate class discussion about bias and media literacy.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Present students with a real-world problem-solving scenario in which they are evaluating information. Example: You wake up one morning with a horrible rash on your arm. You do not know what it is. What do you do? Discuss student responses and continue to add questions/choices. (The doctor you see wants to amputate your arm, what do you do now?) This activity can provide a different access or entry point for talking about authority and information literacy.
  • Opposing Viewpoints: Have students look for sources that take different stances on an issue. Unpack this experience as a class, and guide a discussion of the who, what, when, why of these viewpoints and the process of uncovering them.
  • Evidence First: When looking at research, encourage and instruct students to focus on the evidence rather than honing in on the conclusion. Is there a clear trajectory from the evidence provided to the conclusion presented?

There are no easy solutions or quick-fixes in this area, and that can be uncomfortable at times, particularly in the role of educator. But it is possible that in some way, the questions here are just as meaningful as the answers, if not more so. It is through the posing of such questions, engaging in the dialogue, and learning how to operate in the uncertainty, that progress is made, both for us as professionals, and for our students.

We do not always have to have clean-cut, black and white answers for our students, and doing so would ultimately do them a disservice anyway, as it misrepresents the gray areas inherent in critical thinking. When a student asks a complicated question about bias or authority, don’t be afraid to shrug, and say “yeah, it’s really tricky, isn’t it?” Or flip the question back to the students, and ask them what they think and why. Be transparent about the challenges and the give and take, and talk about it explicitly. Indeed, scholarship is a conversation after all.

More to check out:

Read: Interesting blog post examining the frame Authority is Constructed and Contextual.

Listen: Circulating Ideas podcast with UT Doctoral Fellow Jeremy Shermack talking about bias, journalism, and the media.