Congrats to Jessica Brodsky who successfully defended her pilot project titled “Improving College Students’ Fact-Checking Strategies through Lateral Reading Instruction in a General Education Civics Course.”
College students lack fact-checking skills for verifying online content, which may lead them to accept information at face-value. We report findings from an institution participating in the Digital Polarization Initiative (DPI; American Association of State Colleges and Universities), a national effort to teach students the lateral reading strategies used by expert fact-checkers to verify information. Lateral reading requires users to leave the information (website) to find out whether someone has already fact-checked the claim, identify the original source, or learn more about the individuals or organizations making the claim. Multiple sections of a general education civics course provided lateral reading instruction paired with online homework (N = 174 students); other sections provided business-as-usual instruction (N = 93 students). At posttest, students in DPI sections more often used lateral reading to fact-check information than controls; use of lateral reading was linked to numbers of homeworks attempted but unrelated to students’ self-reported use of lateral reading. Aligning with the DPI curriculum emphasizing use of Wikipedia to investigate sources, students in DPI sections reported greater use and trust of Wikipedia at posttest than controls. Across conditions, students demonstrated high general media literacy knowledge, with no change from pretest to posttest and no relation to lateral reading. This result suggests a dissociation between fact-checking skills and the general media literacy curriculum taught in high school. Further research is needed to determine if improvements in lateral reading are maintained over time and to explore factors that might distinguish students who showed improvements after instruction from non-responders.