This segment, a follow-up to the blog post dated 17 July 2017, will introduce six strategies to use as a guide when finding, evaluating, using, and creating digital content. In the past, we used to consume information after it was filtered for us by publishers, editors, booksellers, and libraries. In the 21st century, all the world’s information can be easily accessed through search engines, and social media. In general, most people have become accustomed to the concept of More, Faster, and Better. In contrast, the “more” is often not “faster” or “better.” Ironically, the more information available on a topic the less likely we are able to find the most reliable sources.
Moreover, Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth, by Stebbins, discusses a simple theoretical concept of how the brain processes information in order to understand and draw conclusions about any given topic. Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who specializes in psychology, argues that our brains use two systems to process information Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow.
Thinking Fast involves instantly fitting what we see and read into our preconceived notions of how the world works, whereas Thinking Slow involves making a conscious effort to question the information we are viewing. Teachers seemingly have not emphasized strategies when teaching digital literacy in the classroom. Educators could easily use a checklist to monitor, and remind students when evaluating digital content for the purposes of research, and written communication. Alternatively, it is encouraged that students practice Thinking Slow, and use contemplative thinking; practice long-form reading, and analysis when finding, evaluating, using, and creating digital content.
Stebbins’ book uses storytelling to describe information quests, and highlights six strategies in Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth:
1. Start at the Source
Focus more on locating a reliable source for the information that is being sought rather than just hopping on a search engine or database and seeing what information floats to the top.
2. The Psychology of Search
The potential for bias in how we ask questions, how easily we are “satisfied” or willing to settle, the influence of “name” brands and reputations, and social factors all influence our search results.
3. Expert, Amateur, Crowd
Study the reliability of experts, because some expertise can be valuable; however, a crowd, or an amateur can also contribute reliable information. This awareness helps to make a conscious decision on where to look for information, and what types of information can be trusted.
4. Context, Motivation, and Bias
Context relates to everything surrounding the information, including the motivation for the search. Context also includes determining the purpose of a piece of information, understanding how it was constructed, whether it was vetted, edited, peer reviewed, and formally published. By figuring out context we can better understand the motivation and potential bias of a piece of information.
5. Comparison and Corroboration
Scholarly research involves basing new research on previous findings. Research is not conducted in a vacuum. When carrying out a comprehensive literature review on a scholarly topic, comparison and corroboration are built into the process.
6. Going Deep, or Not
Searching for information is an iterative process: where to look, how far to go, how many sources to read, what types of sources to go after. Taking a piece of information and uncovering the backstory: How was it created? Who is this author? What is the purpose? Do others agree? What is it based on?