Internet is integral. For me, it serves as a way to socialize, share, learn, and have fun every single day. It also allows me to work—without it, my job would literally not exist. I can recall when the internet was sparsely used and I’m glad for that since reflecting on it helps me appreciate how far it has come and all the opportunities it now offers us. When I was first introduced to researching for essays, I had to rely exclusively on physical texts such as encyclopedias and books from the library. Encyclopedias eventually became available as offline software, which was a big space saver but not as time efficient as one might have hoped since the technology was slow. Fast forward a couple of decades and you and I have an enormous amount of information about anything and everything available in no time at all. There’s so much information, though, that we’re still (hopefully) spending a good deal of time doing our research, except now it’s being used to determine the validity of what we’re finding. As our recent readings and likely our personal experiences have shown, this isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.
When the internet started becoming a big part of my research for school, I was taught how to assess a website for its credibility. The method I was introduced to was akin to the CRAAP test discussed in “Why we need a new approach to teaching digital literacy” from the Phi Delta Kappan journal (2018) that we read. When I was looking it over I found myself nodding along, matching the checklist I was reading to the one I’ve internalized over the years, the biggest being Authority: The source of the Information. One of the things I was taught outside of learning these sorts of checklists was to determine whether the source of what I’m reading is primary or secondary, so this portion of the CRAAP test was particularly easy for me to grasp. Looking to see whether the website ends in a .com vs .org and figuring out the qualifications of the author and who they may be quoting comes naturally. Of course, this is a semi-antiquated method. Though that approach isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s limited. The people who are making the websites and writing the articles we look to for truth know these checklists as well and can conform their work to meet the standards we have come to expect from legitimate sources. Also, I think it’s important to remember that in terms of quotes, anyone can quote a credible source or even someone with an opposing opinion and include it in a way that satisfies their own agenda.
It is all these things and so much more that make learning how to read laterally incredibly important. Fact checkers like the ones in the Stanford History Education Group study and discussion on lateral reading (2017) are trained on how to do this and how to do it efficiently. I imagine this training is a mix of personal experience and professional education and it’s something we really ought to be including in our curricula and in our interactions with those around us. We must also try to drill home that when it comes to the news there are so many competing organizations that rush to be the first to break a story, something that can come at the expense of facts not being fully checked and sometimes spreading false information.
These are all serious issues and though I am not an educator, I am an aunt to an almost-4-year-old niece and I intend to do my best to help guide her on these issues. Lateral reading is a skill I will work to hone, and I fully intend on staying up-to-date on the new ways to validate data evolve, as they inevitably will. The material we read for our topic on informational literacy, though brief, is filled with so much interesting and pertinent information. There are so many things, such as personal anecdotes, concerns and questions, that came to mind while reading these two works that I could discuss in more depth; I wonder if others walked away with a list of their own reflections as well. This is a topic that is actively being further explored and made available in an easy-to-digest format to the masses (see my Tweet from March 23) and for that I am grateful.