Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Exploring the Causes of Scientific Misinformation

This lesson prompts undergraduate college students in an upper-division natural science class to explore the causes of scientific misinformation, develop skills to evaluate mis/information, and locate academic literature to counteract scientific misinformation.

Published onOct 05, 2022
Exploring the Causes of Scientific Misinformation
·

Summary

This lesson prompts undergraduate college students in an upper-division natural science class to explore the causes of scientific misinformation, develop skills to evaluate mis/information, and locate academic literature to counteract scientific misinformation.

Literacies & Competencies

This lesson builds on students’ existing competencies in open web source evaluation, web searching, and navigating social media networks to introduce competencies in lateral reading strategies, navigating scholarly information resources, and exploring the function of authority in a given information environment. Students ultimately build literacies in understanding the flow of information among social media platforms, the open web, and the academy, as well as the systemic nature of misinformation in a networked information environment. These competencies and literacies support the frames Information Has Value, Scholarship as Conversation, and Authority is Constructed and Contextual from the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education.

Audience

This lesson is geared towards college undergraduates with foundations in a discipline in the natural sciences. Students should have some experience searching for information on the internet and social media. Students will gain skills using library resources such as databases and catalogs and, therefore, this skill set is not a prerequisite.      

Curricular Context

This synchronous online workshop was initially designed to supplement a final research project in an upper-division Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences course. Before the lesson, students completed an assignment where they considered the topics of their projects and found examples of related misinformation on social media platforms.

The workshop was adapted from one created for a large first-year undergraduate general education survey class.

Instructional Partners

  • Ashley Peterson, Media & Data Literacy Librarian

  • Alexandra Solodkaya, Rothman Family Food Studies Librarian

  • Jasper Kok, course instructor

Technology 

Required for instructors: 

  • A desktop computer, a laptop computer, or a tablet with a reliable internet connection

  • Access to video conferencing software such as Zoom

  • Access to shared document editing software such as Google Drive

Required for learners:

  • A desktop computer, a laptop computer, or a tablet with a reliable internet connection 

  • Access to video conferencing software such as Zoom

  • Access to shared document editing software such as Google Documents, Jamboard, or Mentimeter

Recommended for instructors: 

  • An external monitor 

Adaptability 

This lesson can be adapted for delivery in an in-person learning environment and be used with any disciplinary topic where learners are exploring the systemic nature of misinformation, with a specific focus on how academic research can be misrepresented or distorted when communicated to a non-specialist audience.

This lesson was designed for a 75-minute class session. Ways to scale the lesson down to a shorter session (less than 60 minutes is not recommended) include:

  • Eliminate or modify the reflection question slides, as noted in the presentation slide deck

  • Eliminate slides giving a detailed model activity example, as noted in the presentation slide deck.

  • Pre-record the presentation portion for students to engage asynchronously ahead of the lesson.

Ways to expand the lesson into multiple sessions include:

  • Ask learners to share out on their findings following the activity.

  • Instructors assess key findings or trends from the activity document and present these to learners following the activity. 

Learning Outcomes

Learners will be able to:

  • Identify examples of mis/disinformation information on social media networks 

  • Describe systemic causes of mis/disinformation

  • Locate academic literature that disproves the claims of mis/disinformation

Preparation

For instructors: 

  • Prepare presentation slides, workshop activity instructions, and pre-assignment instructions

  • Share pre-assignment instructions with learners ahead of the workshop. The assignment should be completed before the workshop. 

  • Ensure participants have access to the latest version of the course video conferencing platform

  • Ensure participants have access to the group activity shared document 

For learners:

  • Ensure they have access to the latest version of the course video conferencing platform 

  • Complete the pre-assignment described in the “Curricular Context” section and included in the “Materials” section.

Materials

Assessment

Student Learning 

Student learning is assessed at several points throughout the workshop via reflection questions and an in-class activity. In these reflections, students are asked to share their personal experiences with some of the lesson's contents. These informal assessments rely on students volunteering to share with the class audibly, by adding to the chat, or by contributing to a shared document. The first reflection assesses students prior knowledge and experience with assessing the validity of online information. The second reflection assesses students’ strategies for dealing with the adverse psychological effects of information overload. The third reflection assesses students’ familiarity with social media business models and their role in proliferating misinformation.

The 45-minute group activity is the main assessment metric of the workshop. Instructors can use it to assess how much participants have learned and offer feedback to reinforce understanding and correct misunderstandings. For the activity, students work in small groups, pick an example of misinformation from social media, and then examine it using the activity prompt, which has them critically evaluate their misinformation example. The groups record their findings in a shared Google Doc. While instructors use the same document to give real-time feedback and assistance and, after it is complete, holistically assess how learners respond to the prompts activity. 

Reflection

The lesson design process was fairly straightforward. Jasper Kok, Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, requested a workshop on misinformation for his Introduction to Research in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences course. The fifteen students in the course were researching issues related to climate change, and an introduction to the systemic nature of misinformation was deemed beneficial. The course instructor shared the syllabus, final assignment parameters, and other background information to help library instructors adapt the workshop to the needs of students. Based on these parameters, library instructors were able to adapt a workshop created for a large first-year undergraduate general education survey to one suited to a  smaller, more interactive class.  

The workshop implementation proved successful as students engaged in the learning process throughout the entire workshop. The lecture portion, an introduction to the systemic nature of misinformation in a networked information environment, clearly resonated with them. The time allotted for the lesson was adequate. Still, library instructors have considered breaking the lesson into two sections to allow more group activity and post-activity reflection time.

Assessment of student learning via the group activity made it clear that students were building upon existing skills of online content evaluation by adding critical information literacy practices such as lateral reading. Students could follow the prompts, synthesize the information encountered, and provide a savvy analysis based on the lesson’s content. Overseeing the group activity was especially interesting for the library instructors because many groups chose to use the examples of misinformation they found on their own based on their research topics. Through this observation, instructors gained insight into the types of misinformation the students were encountering and concerned about. 

After the lesson's conclusion, the instructors realized that the group activity prompt did not give students room to critically reflect on data-gathering issues and algorithmically driven content when using search engines versus library subscription databases. After some consideration, the instructors added a set of reflection questions at the end of the activity document and throughout the presentation slides to make clear the implications of these different types of information tools.    

Lesson Outline

Lecture: Understanding Misinformation

(20-25 minutes)

The instructors will:

  • Present an overview of misinformation as a systemic issue. 

  • Define terms and examine three reasons why mis/disinformation exists: Educational, Psychological, Economic. 

  • Identify steps to take at the individual level to identify and refute mis/disinformation.

  • Provide opportunities for student reflection along the way. 

The students will:

  • Contribute suggestions for evaluative criteria

  • Participate in answering reflection questions.

Group Activity: Evaluating Information Resources

(40-45 minutes)

The instructors will:

  • Introduce and facilitate the group activity.

  • Present a sample topic and discuss the evaluation process.

The students (in groups) will:

  • Start with a social media post about a commonly misconceived topic in food and/or sustainability.

  • Find open web information that refutes or supports the post's claims.

  • Apply evaluative criteria and lateral reading strategies to the information.

  • Conduct a search for peer-reviewed literature on the topic.

  • Consider whether the peer-reviewed studies support or refute the post's claims.

Wrap up

(5-10 minutes for a 75-minute session, or 25-30 minutes for a longer session or for an additional session)

The instructors will:

  • Ask students to reflect on the group activity.

  • Identify some common issues that arise beforehand. 

  • Call out some great examples of student work observed in the group activity.

  • Summarize key points and provide resources.

The students will:

  • Share insights and feedback from group activity.

Comments
0
comment

No comments here

Why not start the discussion?