Mapping a Controversy: Finding Viewpoints
What to know about distinguishing viewpoints from informational sources
Expect your students to struggle with this skill and to spend more time discussing it in class than you planned. Here is what I have seen in my work that may give you some context:
1) Students mistake quotations from interviews done by a reporter as an expression of a viewpoint by the reporter. When a journalist reports on a side of a controversy, students often mistake that as a viewpoint.
2) Students do not understand what a journalist's or reporter's job is - to report facts, conduct interviews and to remain impartial. They do not know what a columnist is.
3) Students do not understand that newspapers and other sources often have entire sections, pages devoted to columns, editorials and opinions. That magazines and Websites often have a viewpoint or perspective is not a fully grasped concept (see Bias and Credibility section for more)
Resources and activities:
- Try this quiz or group activities from the New York Times: Distinguishing Between Fact and Opinion. These are best adapted to an in class activity.
- The database Library PressDisplay provides a useful visual representation of newspaper publications so you can point to sections (like the op-eds). Learn more about Using Library PressDisplay in the Classroom.
How to teach them how to find viewpoints on the Web
Limit by Domain
Often organizations (.org) have an agenda tied to a controversy.
You can limit a search on the Advanced Search page in Google (available after you do your search, at the bottom of the page) or in the search box using site:
Search using Advanced Search:
Search using "site:"
Search News Sources on the Web
News organizations’ Opinion/Editorial pages are great places to find viewpoints on a controversy. Try going directly to a known news source to find an editorial related to your controversy. Syndicated columnists often maintain their own blogs and websites as well.
- Try New York Times Room for Debate. Experts from different sides of an issue deeply analyze a news item.
How to teach them to find viewpoints in library databases
It is so tempting to be resigned that students will limit their searching to the Web. Searching the databases is essential for college-level research in their disciplines and also in the workplace. Most industries rely on these tools to find information that is not available for free on the Web. According to Project Information Literacy, recent graduates are unprepared for research in the workplace.
Being an ok googler, does not translate to being an expert database searcher.
Wait! Have you explained to students what a database is? I like to ask them and see what they come up with. Explaining the Deep Web to students is helpful - there is information that is not indexed or searchable via standard search engines, in this case because we (they the students included) pay money for these resources.
Google Scholar may seem like an exception - but it's complicated - it searches many of our subscriptions, but will only give you access if you are 'signed in' to our resources (by using a library link to Google Scholar).
Use this video and screenshots (How to Search LexisNexis Tab and Where and How to Search Tab) to demo searches in scoUT, LexisNexis, Academic Search Complete and Google Scholar.
- LexisNexis Academic: Searches national and international newspapers. Use the screenshots and video (also linked on this same guide for students!) in the How to Search LexisNexis tab to limit to op-eds.
- Academic Search Complete: Searches newspapers, magazines and journals. Limit to 'editorial' in Document Type on main search page.
Assignments, Activities and Resources
Give students this video (links out to youtube, also available on their guide) we made that walks them through various databases, emphasizing limiters. You can show it in class or assign it for homework and discuss during class. Keep in mind that this video just walks them through searching - it does not tell them what a database is or go over keyword brainstorming.
You may also want to suggest that your students find Radio and Television News Transcripts and Speeches (see the Resources page for links)
The RHE Students guide is designed for your students. Share this page with them.