Beyond Hype, Headlines, and Hysteria

March 6, 2017

Wide shot of media literacy panel, March 1, 2017

The AIS and the Library recently partnered to present a lunchtime panel of five Berkeley faculty, who discussed various approaches to teaching digital and media literacy lessons in the wake of the fake news phenomenon and research about gaps in students’ understanding.

The stimulating, interdisciplinary conversation touched on a number of wide-ranging topics, including Internet memes and social media sharing, the history and professional practices of the news industry, the challenge of confirmation bias and building “trust” in online spaces, as well as opportunities for faculty and students to counter misinformation and separate fact from fiction.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

  • Mike Larkin from College Writing presents social media assignment at Media Literacy Panel, March 1, 2017

    Mike Larkin asks students in his College Writing 4B class to examine specific instances of fake news and discuss how they spread online. He’s come up with a clever mnemonic W.A.I.S.T. (Why Am I Sharing This?) to help them examine their own role in reacting to emotional content. Read more on his blog.

  • In Beverly Crawford’s freshman seminar, Political Economy 24, “Fake News or Real News: What's the Difference and How to Know,” students explore how fake news differs from satire, spin, and plain old sloppy journalism. They also examine why people believe in a story after it’s been debunked or if debunking even works. Guest speakers have included journalists from the Daily Californian, describing their stringent process for checking facts and vetting sources, and a librarian, who shared the evaluating resources guide for sniffing out fake news.

  • Jean Retzinger tackles fake news in her Media Studies 103 course by having students read “real” news and understand how it’s made: the history and evolution of journalism, core principles, and the challenge of economic pressures and changing models. An important goal for her is to help students get beyond convenient labels (e.g., “liberal” and “right-wing” media) and critically examine what’s being discussed, how it’s being presented, and the role that the media play in a free society.

  • Biology professor Leslea Hlusko bridges media literacy and scientific understanding by having students in her Integrative Biology 35AC course (“Human Biological Variation”) edit Wikipedia articles on related topics such as race and health. The assignment empowers students to produce (and debate/defend) their own media content, while considering closely the ethics, validity, and consequences of popular science writing. With over nineteen articles and 600,000 page views to their credit, the students get to see that their work fills an important need and has a sizable and immediate impact.

  • Edward Wasserman, dean of the School of Journalism, agreed that having students create, and not just consume, media is an excellent learning opportunity, and he pointed out the importance of Berkeley’s minor in Journalism for undergraduates. He also noted that stories are only as good as their sources, so Berkeley and other campuses should help faculty and students take on this role. Dean Wasserman also observed the ways in which social media has undermined the trustworthy brands that news organizations have built over the years, and closed by warning that commercial contamination of the news is a bigger problem than political contamination.

Biology professor Leslea Hlusko speaking at a media literacy panel

Following a rich audience conversation, moderator Cody Hennesy closed by reminding the audience that the Library provides an online guide to real news/fake news and that course instructors can ask subject librarians to teach customized workshops on the evaluation of resources, media literacy, and more.

Check out the consolidated presenter slides below: