Information Fluency: Detecting Bias

During the seven weeks of working on our research projects, information fluency and its emphasis on accessing and acquiring good sources, analyzing those sources and applying the knowledge has been an  ongoing skill practiced over and over again in a variety of ways. But one I wanted to focus on one aspect of information fluency–understanding bias– and how I saw it at work in my freshmen.

I gave my students passages to read that included a bias and asked them to identify what the bias was. Interestingly, when the topic of the reading was something the students did not have strong feelings about, they were able to more easily spot the bias and see it for what it really was. But when given a hot button topic such as abortion or raising the driving age, students’ own strong opinions and bias got in the way of accurately identifying the bias of the author.

I know I’m not stumbling upon anything new and rare here. We all know that our own bias keeps us from seeing things clearly. But this experience led me to question how I can balance the skill of developing an opinion (something I do have to work on with freshmen in their writing) with the ability to encounter others’ opinions and see them for what they really are, bias and all? It is a struggle students face every year when doing research: how to keep hold of their own voice when reading a multitude of other voices, some of which are intentionally misleading?

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Posted on 1 May 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. integratedintention

    This reminds me of misconceptions in physics. There are some obvious differences, like the fact that misconceptions are not purposeful, but it’s similar in that our previous knowledge is actually impeding our growth – oftentimes significantly.

  2. This is dead-on…bullseye! Information and media fluency are not “one-way street” kind of skills. Both are skills that require students to learn to create a message as well as interpret one. I think that adolescent psychology plays a factor too. Many of your freshmen are seeking to form an identity and may be unsure of where they really stand on an issue, making them more maleable and fickle about their own opinion. It’s “safer” to stand in the crowd than to stand out; to subscribe to what is recent or believe in he who speaks loudest. I think as teens mature into 20-somethings, they begin to see that standing alone is okay. The essential question then is: how can we, as teachers, help them speed up that natural maturation and build self-confidence?

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