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Teaching College Students Fact-checking Skills

Recent research shows that college students struggle to accurately evaluate the trustworthiness of online information (McGrew et al., 2018). Unlike expert fact-checkers, students rarely “read laterally.” That is, students don’t use independent online sources, like fact-checking sites or Wikipedia, to verify online claims and research the people and/or organizations making those claims (Wineburg & McGrew, 2017).

At this year’s Association for Psychological Science–Society for the Teaching of Psychology (APA, Division 2) Teaching Institute in Washington, DC, Graduate Center doctoral student Jessica E. Brodsky (Educational Psychology) presented a poster with preliminary findings from the College of Staten Island, one of eleven colleges participating in the Digital Polarization Initiative (DPI). The DPI is a national effort by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to teach college students the lateral reading “moves” that expert fact-checkers use to verify online information (Caulfield, 2017). Jessica’s poster was selected to receive one of four Psi Chi Association for Psychological Science Convention Society Research Awards.

At the College of Staten Island, students in Fall 2018 sections of COR100, the College’s general education civics course, received either the DPI fact-checking curriculum or instruction as usual. Students who received fact-checking instruction showed significant gains in using fact-checking strategies and Wikipedia to verify information, as compared to students in “control” sections. Jessica worked closely with COR100 instructors and Graduate Center Professor Patricia Brooks (Educational Psychology, Psychology) to create online assessments evaluating the efficacy of the DPI curriculum, as well as online instructional materials to help students practice fact-checking strategies introduced in class.

The DPI curriculum was implemented in COR100 at the College of Staten Island in Spring 2019 with revised assessment and instructional materials. Data analysis for the second round of implementation is currently underway.

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