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Educators' Perceptions of Information Literacy and Skills Required to Spot 'Fake News'

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Abstract

This research examines the concept of 'fake news' in the context of information literacy (IL) in a post-secondary educational setting. Educators' perceptions shape both IL curricula and classroom discussions with students. We conducted 18 interviews with members of 3 integral groups implementing IL education (8 professors, 6 librarians, 4 department chairs). Interviews explored participants' perceptions of: IL education, perceived skills associated with IL, skills required to spot 'fake news', and gaged our participants' willingness to incorporate segments dedicated to detecting 'fake news' in IL curriculum. Our qualitative findings identify a substantial overlap that exists between skills associated with IL and 'fake news' detection (e.g., close-reading, critical disposition, bias awareness). Professors and academic administrators also appeared to underappreciate the role of librarians as IL educators. We advocate improving communication among integral facilitators of IL education. More research is needed to assess effectiveness of IL education as an 'inoculation' against 'fake news.' INTRODUCTION What does it mean to be critical of information? In 1989, the American Library Association (ALA) defined information literacy (IL) as a set of skills that enables individuals "to find, evaluate, and use information effectively to solve a particular problem or make a decision." However, as conceptualization of information shifts, and the technologies people use to communicate change, so does the teaching of IL. How we obtain information, and specifically news has been altered by the existence of social media platforms. Blending of traditional news outlets and user generated content procured through social media has influenced how individuals inform themselves (Chen, Conroy and Rubin, 2015). "Most of what we think of as news is now delivered to and received by us in video clips and sound bites, often forwarded without filter or review through social networks from one screen to another in a matter of minutes" (Frederiksen, 2017). Through social media platforms individuals are presented with a decontextualized 'news' sources, often stripped of details about information production. Reliance on social media as a news vector has disrupted traditional methods of information acquisition. Individuals who were once reliant on librarians to provided epistemological protected procured information are now "using the internet to acquire information and making important decisions with it […] acquiring knowledge from a media where anyone can write anything they want, true or false, anonymously and without consequences" (Walsh, 2010).
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Educators’ Perceptions of Information Literacy and Skills
Required to Spot ‘Fake News’
Nicole S. Delellis
University of Western Ontario, Canada. ndelelli@uwo.ca
Victoria L. Rubin
University of Western Ontario, Canada. vrubin@uwo.ca
ABSTRACT
This research examines the concept of ‘fake news’ in the context of information literacy (IL) in a post-secondary educational
setting. Educators’ perceptions shape both IL curricula and classroom discussions with students. We conducted 18 interviews
with members of 3 integral groups implementing IL education (8 professors, 6 librarians, 4 department chairs). Interviews
explored participants’ perceptions of: IL education, perceived skills associated with IL, skills required to spot ‘fake news’, and
gaged our participants’ willingness to incorporate segments dedicated to detecting ‘fake news’ in IL curriculum. Our qualitative
findings identify a substantial overlap that exists between skills associated with IL and ‘fake news’ detection (e.g., close-
reading, critical disposition, bias awareness). Professors and academic administrators also appeared to underappreciate the role
of librarians as IL educators. We advocate improving communication among integral facilitators of IL education. More research
is needed to assess effectiveness of IL education as aninoculation’ against ‘fake news.’
KEYWORDS
Information Literacy, Perceptions, ‘Fake News’, Information Literacy Instruction
INTRODUCTION
What does it mean to be critical of information? In 1989, the American Library Association (ALA) defined infor-
mation literacy (IL) as a set of skills that enables individuals “to find, evaluate, and use information effectively to solve a
particular problem or make a decision.” However, as conceptualization of information shifts, and the technologies people use
to communicate change, so does the teaching of IL. How we obtain information, and specifically news has been altered by the
existence of social media platforms. Blending of traditional news outlets and user generated content procured through social
media has influenced how individuals inform themselves (Chen, Conroy and Rubin, 2015). “Most of what we think of as news
is now delivered to and received by us in video clips and sound bites, often forwarded without filter or review through social
networks from one screen to another in a matter of minutes” (Frederiksen, 2017). Through social media platforms individuals
are presented with a decontextualized ‘news’ sources, often stripped of details about information production. Reliance on social
media as a news vector has disrupted traditional methods of information acquisition. Individuals who were once reliant on
librarians to provided epistemological protected procured information are now “using the internet to acquire information and
making important decisions with it […] acquiring knowledge from a media where anyone can write anything they want, true
or false, anonymously and without consequences” (Walsh, 2010).
Critical assessment of information is important today as it ever has been. Decontextualization of news stories has left
individuals who lack IL skills susceptible to ‘fake news’ deception. Citizens lacking IL skills are predisposed to believing
problematic informationthat is “inaccurate, misleading, inappropriately attributed or altogether fabricated(Jack, 2017). Re-
searchers have found that “in-spite of the importance of information literacy instruction in higher education, it is still not an
integral component of many higher education programs and the students who are going to be graduated from universities are
“ill-equipped” with information skills” (Singh, 2011). Past scholars have propagated the idea of IL as a potential cure or remedy
that could protect individuals against the disinformation, however few studies have explored IL in relation to ‘fake news’ in
the current state of IL instruction in higher education. It also remains unanswered as to who should take the burden of equipping
individuals to be critical evaluators of information.
RESEARCH QUESTION
Effort has been put into finding technological solutions to the proliferation of misinformation, and disinformation in current
online informational spaces (e.g., Rubin (2017), Rubin, Chen, and Conroy (2015)). This research however, focuses on the
human side of digital news reading, and how it relates to the broader concept of IL. Revealing educators’ perceptions about IL,
and ‘fake news’ is important because these perceptions shape IL curricula, can direct classroom discourse, and form how IL is
presented. Specifically, we addressed the following research questions:
1. What perceptions do librarians, professors, and academic administrators have about IL?
2. Should ‘fake news’ be introduced into IL education?
3. What skills are perceived as necessary to detect ‘fake news’?
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METHODS AND ANALYSIS
This is a case study of a large Southern Ontario Canadian higher educational institution. Perceptions about IL educa-
tion and ‘fake news’ were assessed in one-on-one interviews. In winter 2018, we solicited participation of 166 university
employees via direct personal e-mail invitations and received a 10.8% response rate, indicative of a high interest in the topic
of the study. Consequently, 18 participants from the invited pool were interviewed face-to-face (8 professors, 6 librarians, and
4 department chairs) with an average duration of interviews of 24 minutes (ranging from about 10 minutes to 50 minutes).
Interviews contained 11-13 structured question and concluded with an open-ended question. Transcriptions of interviews were
analyzed using Glaser and Strauss’ (1967) Grounded Theory Approach. A concept map was created to visually display an
aggregation of identified concepts that re-appeared as themes in at least 2 of the participants’ transcripts (Appendix Figure 1).
MAIN FINDINGS
In general, all participants emphasized IL as the ability to not only find information, but to evaluate this information
synthesized from a variety of sources. Substantial overlap existed in the 18 participants’ perceptions of skills associated with
IL, and skills thought to be essential for ‘fake news’ detection. Both skills sets were perceived to contain: an understanding of
how language works (close-reading skills), skepticism/critical disposition, an understanding about how information is pro-
duced, an awareness of biases (both internal and external), and the ability to synthesize various sources/perspectives. Perceived
overlap in skill sets (Figure 1) emphasizes the inherent connection between IL and ‘fake news’ detection, and provides insights
into why participants perceived that skills required to detect ‘fake news’ are an extension to general IL skills.
Almost all interviewees (17 out of 18) believed that it is important for students to be information literate upon gradu-
ation, and more than half (10 out of 18) agreed that segments about ‘fake news’ should be included in IL curriculum. Partici-
pants perceived IL to be an essential citizens’ education, which enables individuals to be able to function and engage in demo-
cratic societies. As of early 2018, our participants report that only limited curricula include segments dedicated specifically to
‘fake news’. Also, librarians are underutilized in the IL education within our case study sample. Researchers in Library and
Information Science have proclaimed that “the role of librarians and information professional is to develop well-educated
information consumers” (El Rayess et al., 2018), but neither set of interviewed professors or department chairs mentioned
librarians when asked who should be teaching IL.
CONCLUSION
Based on interviews with 18 participants within our case study’s post-secondary Canadian institution, we noticed a
substantial overlap in recurring concepts associated with their perceptions of IL skills, and skills required to spot ‘fake news’
(see Appendix Figure 1). Participants saw IL skills being applied towards the broader societal concern of producing critically
thinking, aware, information literate citizens. We also identified an unfortunate disconnect between the awareness of the value
of IL education, and its universal implementation across the institution. Further research needs to assess the effectiveness of
current IL education in imparting perceived skills of critical evaluation of information. In the time being, we recommended for
institutions to more proactively facilitate open communication between professors, librarians, and academic administrators to
enable the building of curricula, and concrete detailed plans to provide IL education to every student, across every discipline.
REFERENCES
American Library Association (1989), Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report, American Library
Association, Washington, DC, Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential
Chen, Y., Conroy, N.J., & Rubin, V.L. (2015). News in an online world: the need for an automatic crap detector. Proceedings
of the 78th ASIS&T Annual Meeting: Information Science with Impact: Research in and for the Community. American
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El Rayess, M., Chebl, C., Mhanna, J., & Hage, R. (2018). Fake news judgement. Reference Services Review, 46(1), 146-149.
Frederiksen, L. (2017). Best of the Literature: Fake News. Public Services Quarterly, 13, 103-107.
Jack, C. (2017). Lexicon of lies: terms for problematic information. Data & Society. Retrieved from
https://datasociety.net/pubs/oh/DataAndSociety_LexiconofLies.pdf
Rubin, V. L., Chen, Y. & Conroy, N. J. (2015). Deception Detection for News: Three Types of Fakes. Proceedings of the 78th
ASIS&T Annual Meeting: Information Science with Impact: Vol. 81.
Rubin, V. L. (2017). News Verification Suite: Towards System Design to Supplement Reporters’ and Editors’ Judgements.
Proceedings of the 45th Annual Conference of the Canadian Assoication for Information Science L’Association cana-
dienne des sciences de l’information (CAIS/ACSI2017), Toronto.
Walsh, J. (2010). Librarians and controlling disinformation: Is multi-literacy instruction the answer? Library Review, 59(7),
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Appendix Figure 1. A Concept Map of Themes in EducatorsPerceptions about Information Literary (IL) and Skills Required to Detect Fake News’.
In their face-to-face interviews, 16 participants involved in a IL education revealed substantial overlap in perceived skills associated with information literacy (IL) and those thought to be
required for ‘fake news’ detection. The concepts referring to IL are linked in the yellow bubbles, and those referring to spotting ‘fake news’ are in red bubbles. See for example, the similari-
ties between IL ‘defined as an ability’ and ‘awareness’ of ‘knowledge production’ (in yellow bubbles) and ‘abilities required for detection’ of ‘fake news as ‘means of communication’ with
its ‘biases’ (red bubbles). Both skills sets were perceived to contain: an understanding of how language works (close-reading skills), skepticism/critical disposition, an understanding about
how information is produced, an awareness of biases (both internal and external), and the ability to synthesize various sources/perspectives.
... Indeed, this outcome highlights the need for future studies that investigate barriers for participants in relation to gather competency. Delellis and Rubin (2018) highlighted the effective role of information literacy competencies in decreasing the spread of misinformation on social media. Both come to a conclusion that having ILCs are urgent for susceptible populations, and pinpointed the importance of having educational campaigns to promote information literacy among people from young age. ...
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Best of the Literature: Fake News
  • M El Rayess
  • C Chebl
  • J Mhanna
  • R Hage
El Rayess, M., Chebl, C., Mhanna, J., & Hage, R. (2018). Fake news judgement. Reference Services Review, 46(1), 146-149. Frederiksen, L. (2017). Best of the Literature: Fake News. Public Services Quarterly, 13, 103-107.
Lexicon of lies: terms for problematic information
  • C Jack
Jack, C. (2017). Lexicon of lies: terms for problematic information. Data & Society. Retrieved from https://datasociety.net/pubs/oh/DataAndSociety_LexiconofLies.pdf