PRIMO Site of the Month Interview: April 2022

Lateral Reading *
*While this tutorial asks for a CSU DH email for access, the system will accept any email

Creator and Interviewees: Tessa Withorn, Aric Haas, and Carolyn Caffrey Gardner
Institution: CSU Dominguez Hills University Library
Interviewer: Janna Mattson

Description (Creator Provided): This short, interactive tutorial introduces student researchers to lateral readings, going upstream, and fact checking as strategies for evaluating online information. After watching a video about lateral reading, students apply what they’ve learned by evaluating an example publication with an outside source. The tutorial also includes the “4 Moves & a Habit” framework for fact checking specific claims.

Q: Did you create this tutorial by request for a specific course or department? Or this more of a “if you build it” situation?

A: We created the lateral reading tutorial to support our general education curriculum as part of a media and news literacy toolkit. The toolkit is intended to offer faculty with a mix-and-match approach using various digital learning objects about evaluating online sources and understanding journalistic standards. The toolkit also includes a video on fairness and balance in the news and a video on the anatomy of a news article with reflective questions, a tutorial on evaluating information based on an information need, as well as handouts and assignment ideas. The Communications department at CSUDH has Journalism and Media Studies options, but this tutorial would be a good fit for first-year writing and public speaking courses too. The tutorial has also been assigned in our credit-bearing GE course, LIB 151: Fundamentals of Information Literacy. We don’t specifically mention fake news or misinformation, but we wanted to provide educational opportunities for students to engage with media and news literacy as essential skills for navigating today’s information ecosystem. 

Q: Is lateral reading the preferred source evaluation method at CSUDH?

A: Lateral reading is an effective way to evaluate the credibility of a source. Instead of relying on superficial markers of authority that students may have learned in the past, lateral reading encourages them to look outside of the source to understand the broader context of a site’s reputation and potential bias. Likewise, fact checking investigates the accuracy of evidence and specific claims presented in an information source. We wanted to create a tutorial that focused on lateral reading strategies, but we also developed another tutorial on evaluating information by asking critical questions. There are other considerations to evaluating online sources that we teach such as whether a source addresses a specific information need, the evidence, audience, and purpose of a source, and whose voice is represented. Depending on the discipline, we emphasize other methods appropriate to that field as well. We try to avoid acronyms and checklists for evaluating sources that decontextualize information. We believe there’s no one way to evaluate a source, leaving room for students to come up with their own strategies too!  

Q: Caufield’s SIFT acronym isn’t used in this tutorial. Why did you decide to leave it out? 

A: Mike Caufield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers was a foundational text for this project. He initially wrote about the 4 Moves & a Habit framework, which he later updated to SIFT. Both frameworks are valid, but we preferred the original for this project, as it calls out lateral reading specifically and frames the process of evaluation as ongoing. Instead of starting with “stop,” we like the habit of thinking critically about our emotional responses to information. We’ve also found that the SIFT acronym doesn’t really resonate with students in practice and look forward to more research on its efficacy in information literacy instruction.

Q: Why did you choose LibWizard to host this tutorial?

A: We create most of our tutorials using SpringShare’s LibWizard Tutorials platform. We find it to be accessible and easy to use for both creating content and for students to navigate. In these split-screen tutorials, the embedded slides on the right can host videos, PDFs, and web pages, making it easy for students to follow along with multiple modalities and apply what they’ve learned through hands-on activities. We also didn’t need to totally reinvent the wheel. The introductory video on lateral reading was created by our good friends at the University of Louisville, Rob Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze, as part of their awesome Citizen Literacy toolkit. We also reused the 4 Moves & a Habit infographic created by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Aside from planning the tutorial, it only took a few hours to bring it all together. We also ask students at the end of our tutorials if they found them easy to navigate, and nearly all students strongly agree or agree. There can be some hosting issues with LibWizard, but since we only use multimedia and open web pages (not databases) in this tutorial, we haven’t heard of any technical issues. 

Q: I notice you use some open-ended questions for the quiz. How completely do students tend to answer these questions?

A: The majority of students answer them completely. We try to incorporate a mix of multiple choice and short answer questions to encourage students to reflect on their previous experience and the materials presented. We don’t necessarily check every response, but for assessment purposes we generate a random sample of responses and note any trends, including the depth of responses and how they compare to the materials presented. Students are engaging with the material when it’s assigned for credit, and if you ask good questions, you’ll get great responses! 

Q: How has this tutorial been received by faculty? 

A: As a newer tutorial, this resource is still gaining traction among our faculty. We have a challenge at our institution of breaking into the general education curriculum as many of the GE courses do not have a shared curriculum across sections and instructor churn is pronounced in these courses. When we do create custom tutorials for English classes, for example, we are more tied to the assignment and need to cover search strategies with an emphasis on evaluating research articles. We have used parts of the lateral reading tutorial in another course-specific tutorial in Health Sciences and the faculty like the addition.  

Q: How has this tutorial been received by students? Have you or any of your colleagues had the opportunity to notice any changes, big or small, in the way they approach web sources because of it? 

A: Students in our LIB 151 class responded well to the tutorial. For their final assignment, they write an annotated bibliography and we encourage them to use other credible sources that present alternative perspectives instead of relying on only peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. We found that students chose authoritative sources, but we can’t necessarily trace that back exclusively to the tutorial. In the tutorial, we ask students how they might use these strategies in the future, and most say they will use them for research projects or in their personal lives for evaluating viral social media posts, the news, political information, or conspiracy theories. It’ll be interesting to read more student feedback in the future!