Finding a research topic that is really meaningful is hard work. It should be if you plan to spend five years working on it.
Maybe I am getting closer. I have abandoned anything about historical thinking concepts – this is an academic field that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a pick-up in the school system. Lots of writers, questionable impact.
Searching for something new one of my advisors suggested that I start looking at Canadian historical websites to develop tools to test for validity.
I had forgotten how important this type of work was to me. I remember sitting on the school board’s tech advisory committee. One of the members (who actually knows a fair amount about education technology) suggested at one of our sessions that there was little point in using curated web tools when you could Google anything. Curated web material usually is expensive mainly because you have to pay someone to make sure the material you put out there has been reviewed for validity. This scene sticks with me to this day and I really wonder what advice school boards are giving to teachers now about how to access digital information.
A few weeks ago, I entered the world of post-truth. Post-truth is a new environment where confusion reigns. In this world, there are no shared facts on which to base decisions. There is widespread disagreement over what is known, how to know, and who to trust. Research as current as 2022 confirms this is a widespread problem that has not yet been dealt with by educators (see – Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn, Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan 2021)
I am citing only one reference here, but there is a vast body of research that backs up this claim. The research on digital information sources goes back over 20 years and begins in earnest with the work of Sam Wineburg, the wonderful writer of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001).
We can reach back further. Every generation has its own media that confound teachers and students. In 1991, Wineburg produced a study indicating that students tended to rely on textbook material even though they were presented with more credible primary historical evidence. The textbooks were preferred because students believed that they were just telling the facts. They adopted the story even though analysis showed that the textbooks didn’t get into much detail, were overly patriotic and political and were designed to offer information that could be answered on a multiple-choice exam (see Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence, Wineburg, 1991)
The current rapid reach of information is unprecedented and with that reach comes a diminishing ability to discern what is actually true.
I remember a presenter at one of the schools I worked at who specialized in the dangers of social media. He was really popular with parents and educators because he focused on creating fear. Students should not be allowed on Facebook etc (the social media at the time) because of the dangers that lurked behind the screen. There was no question that he was right about the abuses of social media, but the solution of just taking it away was misplaced.
As far back as the invention of movable type pamphleteers in 18th century America were free to print anything that would fit on the page. Thomas Jefferson watched the increasing availability of printed material along with the associated increase in baseless claims and stories. His conclusion however was not to stop the publishing of leaflets and books but to educate the public to be wary of what they read.
If we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
(quoted in Wineburg, McGrew, 2019)
Researchers have been very good at presenting the dangers that exist in the post-truth world. They would agree with Jefferson, that education is the key – but what kind of education?
At the end of every research paper I am reading these days is the declaration by academics that something must be done about the post-truth world:
Any successful approach will likely need to go beyond modest tweaks to current instruction, which will inevitably increase the demands on teachers and educational designers. Part of the research agenda should therefore include work on how to implement and scale up proposals for ambitious instruction. Our call is for rapid, intensive research and design to develop these (and other) paths of promoting students’ capacities to engage in apt epistemic performance.Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn , Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan, 2020, p. 58
So, I am asking.
How have different writers sought to critically address the ability of students and teachers to make sense of multiple information sources in a Post-Truth World?
What is Post-Truth? What are some post-truth reasoning challenges?
What is the current ability of educators and students to accurately assess multiple forms of information?
What can we do to teach complex sensemaking skills to educators and students?
Future Directions and Ideas: What are the ways forward?
Along with all these questions, there is a vast array of material I need to read to catch up on what researchers are saying. Maybe someone has an answer – this is what we need to do with our curriculum – but I haven’t seen this yet.
If you have any ideas, please let me know. There is no question that this is something we need to get right. The consequences of losing a grasp on the truth can be seen around us, will we respond?
I am adding this piece about Wikipedia. One of my professors has suggested some really interesting material on Wikipedia and how this could be a good tool to help us adapt to a post-truth world. Worth watch.
New professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice, Claire Wardle, is not a health professional. She is, however, considered one of the leading experts on misinformation. Co-founder of First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to supporting organizations fighting misinformation, Wardle talks to Megan Hall MPH’15, about her plans for collaborative work at Brown that aims not only to understand mis- and disinformation, but to create tools for more effective public health communication.