Growing our students into “Knowledge Constructors” is a goal that cannot be reached in one or two classroom lessons; it is grown through interaction and critical thinking about fact and opinion within the subjects taught in the K-16 experience.
Relating this to ITSE Standard 3b which states that “Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources” (ITSE 3b), I would argue that bias can affect the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of digital information sources.
One way academia has tried to establish accuracy and credibility in its publications is the process of “Peer Review.” Articles submitted for publication in professional journals are subjected to editorial preview by trusted experts in the related field of study. Those articles that “pass” this evaluation are considered significantly relevant to the field, and are therefore generally accepted as evidence in support of arguments.
This process seems reasonable, but it presents an important question: Does peer review address the concern of bias in how information is ultimately presented?
The Common Core State of California Standards expects students to demonstrate the ability to present knowledge in written form, supported by multiple sources.
As we dig deeper into the expectations for writing and research for our students, let us take a look at the standard for our 6th, 7th and 8th grade students:
Notice how our students must be able to “Conduct short research projects” (CCSS W.6.7/W.7.7/W.8.7) to respond to and build on questions and eventually use this knowledge for future investigation. ITSE Standard 3.b supports CCSS writing standard 8 because it requires our students to look at each source, before using it to support individual thinking and learning.
This is all wonderful, in theory. One may look at this blog and say that educators who use these standards are doing a superb job of preparing our scholars to interact with the material they have at their fingertips across digital resources, Yay Teachers! I would argue that the connection of the ITSE standard to support the CCSS is only the tip of the instructional iceberg. How do we support our students as they look at sources and question them for bias as they argue their perspective?
One tool that is helpful for all learners regardless of age, is the Media Bias Chart, produced by Ad Fontes Media, Inc. (https://www.adfontesmedia.com/about-ad-fontes-media/)
Here is the latest version of the chart:
This chart plots popular media sources horizontally from “Most Extreme Left” (liberal) to “Most Extreme Right” (conservative) with “Neutral, minimal or balanced bias” directly in the middle. The vertical alignment indicates the accuracy of the information provided by the source, from “Contains Inaccurate/Fabricated Info” (mostly fake), to “Original Fact Reporting” (verifiably true). In the middle of the Y axis is “Analysis” or “Opinion Writing” rating further delineating the difference between verity and personal point of view.
This chart is helpful and eye-opening to anyone who prides themselves on being literate about how we understand the current events in our world. Our students will certainly gravitate to the most popular sources, but they might also stumble across one or more of these lesser-known websites. Some may even recall hearing adults (parents, teachers, mentors, etc.) refer to some of these sources through social media, on the television, or during conversation. Understanding where these sources base their perspectives can greatly clarify how they present their interpretation of current events.
The use of this chart to delineate bias is only one step of the process. It also supports O’Connor and Sharkey’s statement regarding the feedback loop of research within our classrooms and the steps we want our students to follow when researching materials to make meaning of material to prove a point or present facts. “The first two components (grazing and deep-dive) are what instructors and librarians would label as background research and higher-level research” (Establishing Twenty-First-Century Information
Fluency O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J..pp 34).
If the most regularly visited sources provide knowledge without peer review, are we not contributing to the problem? One of the foundations of the Seattle Pacific Digital Education Leadership MEd Program, is to “Articulate key philosophies, theories, concepts, values, principles, and facts, and demonstrate the essential skills that underlie the content of the professional discipline and vocational goal for which you are being prepared.” If we are facilitating the research in our classrooms at a surface level I would argue that we are not demonstrating the essential skills of research our learners must practice to prepare them for success in a world that will need to be driven by critical thinking and communicating.
I argue that in order to prepare students for success as they seek out resources in the complex and often deceiving digital world, we must design and practice more peer review strategies like those found within the ERIC system.
By studying the process ERIC uses to peer review source articles, our students can look for the bias they will find in an article. Through the exploration of the ERIC database our students will also become comfortable with sources outside of the typical media sites found in the Media Bias Chart.
As students become more familiar with tools that can support the application of research in their writing, they will grow confident in using professional journals and other sources outside of the mainstream media. And by acknowledging the existence of bias, they will be better prepared to recognize the bias in any information source. By teaching our students to use critical reading and researching methods, we are preparing them to question and make meaning of the information that they are flooded with. It is my hope that the process of peer review continues to be refined and practiced to support society as we make sense of this complex world we live and learn in.