“Fake” News, “Fast” News, and More: Project Information Literacy Releases National Study of Student Engagement with the News

PIL News Study

Project Information Literacy has released a new report exploring “how U.S. college-age students are accessing, consuming, and engaging with news in the digital age” based on a landmark, mixed-methods study of almost 6,000 students drawn from 6 high schools and 11 colleges and universities across the country, including DePaul.

The results of this study will be of interest to anyone wishing to better understand the ways in which students discover, access, evaluate, share, and use an extraordinary array of news sources, both for academic purposes and in their private lives, in an era when “news is social, visual, and fast.” Like last year’s panel discussion on “fake news” sponsored by the College of Communication (and joined by librarian Jessica Alverson), this study demonstrates both the challenges students face in evaluating the credibility of news stories today and the manner in which the national debate over “fake news” and the credibility of the media, in general, has had an effect on the way in which they seek out, evaluate, and employ news information. Teachers, librarians, and journalists may find that traditional approaches to teaching the evaluation of news sources will need to evolve in an environment in which more than one-third of the respondents to the survey at the center of this study “said that ‘fake news’ had made them distrust the credibility of any news.”

This study, which draws not only on a national survey of high school and college students, but also on follow-up interviews with select survey respondents and computational analysis of data drawn from the Twitter streams of survey respondents and a broader panel of college-aged Twitter users, demonstrates not only that ways in which students regularly engage with news sources across multiple media (and multiple platforms), but how the evolving approaches taken by today’s students in discovery, access, and sharing of news stories may help “[to] determine the future of news production.” For librarians and faculty, the study also explores the significant role that classroom discussions of current news stories have on student engagement with the news and with the critical thinking tools they employ in evaluating the credibility of breaking new stories.

More than 500 DePaul University students participated in the Project Information Literacy News Study through a survey link made available to them during April 2018. The results of the national study, as well as complementary material, including a public survey dataset, are available through the Project Information Literacy web site.

The DePaul University Library collaborates with faculty across the university in designing and delivering information literacy instruction to first-year students, transfer students, and students in research and writing-intensive courses across the curriculum. Our newly-revised undergraduate learning outcomes for information literacy are designed to help students to develop critical thinking skills that will empower them not only as consumers of information, but also as creators of information, and, as this new study suggests, curators of information (especially about breaking news, current events, etc.) within their online communities. If you would like to learn more about news sources available through the DePaul University Library or about ways in which you might incorporate the results of the PIL study into your approach to assessing information literacy skills in your classes, please contact Heather Jagman, Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Academic Engagement, or your liaison librarian.

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