Beyond The Hill

The University of Michigan is offering a new class on fake news and fact-checking

Emmy Gnat | Head Illustrator

The University of Michigan Library has formed a partnership with the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts to establish the one-credit class called "Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction."

The University of Michigan will be offering a course that can help students distinguish what is false and what is true, in a time where “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become common phrases.

The University of Michigan Library has formed a partnership with the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts to establish the one-credit class called “Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction.” The class will be offered to students starting this fall.

Doreen Bradley, director of learning programs and initiatives at the University of Michigan, who helped design the course, said the library has taught other credit courses that touched on the evaluation of news sources, but the subject of fake news was a small part of those courses.

“We see the students being required to use news sources for their classes and we see them struggling with distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fake, especially with websites and their social media feeds,” Bradley said.

She said the current political climate was a catalyst for the creation of the course, but added there has always been a need for these skills.

During an interview with NBC News in January, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave out “alternative facts” when he falsely claimed Trump’s inauguration crowd was “the largest ever.” Trump has frequently attacked prominent media outlets such as The New York Times, NBC and CNN, calling them “fake news.”

Bradley said the library will teach the class with the College of Literature, Science and Arts. Every year they propose a new course to collaborate on, and this year Bradley said a course on fake news would be interesting to offer.

A group of four librarians crafted the proposal, the basic outline of the course and the syllabus, she said, adding that she wasn’t sure whether the course would become a permanent course or how many students can enroll in it. If the class ends up being popular, she said the library would be willing to offer other sections or an online version of it, as well.

“We’ll have the students finding things, arguing sides,” she said. “We will give them a topic and ask them to find a fake news article too, so they know how to recognize those as well. There’ll be a lot of fact-checking. It’ll be very hands on.”

The course will help students know where to go to fact check articles and know what it is to be a responsible citizen when confronting fake news, she said. Their responsibility, she added, was not just sharing and passing news on, but thinking critically about news stories.

“We had a wonderful reaction, both from campus and from the folks outside,” she said.

A number of students who worked at the library were excited about the course and helped them craft the digital aspect of the course, she added.

“Media literacy and the ability to distinguish fake news is very important but it’s not going to happen,” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor of public policy communication at University of Southern California and an expert in media and politics, said.

Jeffe said not many people care to distinguish what’s fake news. She said Americans focus on cable TV or social media and focus on media that agrees with their points-of-view, whether that media provides fake news or not.

“A course like this will help because we don’t do that anymore. Media literacy was hot in colleges before, a long time ago, but not anymore. However, it all depends on whether the students care to implement what they learn or not,” she said.

Comments

Top Stories