PRIMO Site of the Month Interview: December 2021

Information Neighborhoods: Interacting with Online News Like a Good Neighbor

Creator and Interviewee: Katy Kelly
Institution: University of Dayton
Interviewer: Jennifer Ditkoff

Description (Creator Provided): This module was built to help students better understand the types and purposes of online news by employing a sorting method called information neighborhoods, a concept developed by the Center for News Literacy. The neighborhoods are journalism, entertainment, publicity, propaganda, and raw information. To begin, I share my own news habits, and participants are invited to do the same. In a video, I apply the information neighborhoods concept to the topic of screen time and children, and I showcase different online examples and why they might fall into each neighborhood. Participants then find an online news article and describe its perceived information neighborhood. To support the good habit of being a direct consumer of news, I give examples of news sources freely available through libraries. Lastly, participants reflect on how they can apply the information neighborhood concept to their educational career, personal life, and relationships.

Q: Why did you decide to create Information Neighborhoods? 

A: There were several different opportunities and nudges that led me to create this module. I am the liaison librarian for University of Dayton’s Department of Communication and had a longstanding goal to create a co-curricular opportunity for students about evaluating online news and websites after hearing some discussion from faculty about students’ research habits they’ve observed. I outlined Information Neighborhoods while participating in the 2020 Ohio Library Workers Online News Media Literacy Workshop, led by Michael Spikes of Northwestern University, and based on materials from the Center for News Literacy, where the Information Neighborhoods concept originated. UD has distinct student neighborhoods so I thought the concept would resonate on our campus. Then, I felt a sense of urgency for it following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Beth McMurtrie’s Jan. 12, 2021 article “Teaching in the Age of Disinformation” in the Chronicle of Higher Education inspired me further when I read about approaches to addressing propaganda and conspiracy theories in the classroom. I agreed with Professor Jennifer Mercieca at Texas A&M; it’s important to be direct consumers of news, which is why that’s a learning outcome in the module. 

Q: What was the process and timeline involved in the creation of this resource? Were there any best practices, design frameworks, and/or accessibility guidelines you tried to follow while creating this module? 

A: By participating in the Online News Media Literacy Workshop, I had committed to developing an educational tool by the end of the course. It provided me with a much-needed obligation to learn about these concepts and then immediately apply them to a teaching opportunity. I created the outline for Information Neighborhoods as part of the final course assignment. Spikes and my fellow students offered feedback which influenced the resulting tutorial. I was asked to define the objectives, create a rubric, and write the description and steps for the activity. I think starting in a simple way like this helped me make a more detailed plan when it was time. 

I leveraged some flexible time during winter break of 2021 to further develop my outline, film the short videos, and build the LibWizard module. It was my first time using LibWizard on my own, and I credit some of my UD Library colleagues for being the LibWizard trailblazers in terms of acknowledging good design and accessibility: Jillian Ewalt and Bridget Retzloff had previously created a tutorial called Making Memes; and Kayla Harris, Christina Beis, and Stephanie Shreffler had developed one called Citizen Web Archiving. By looking at their LibWizard structure (videos, embedded websites, and including an experiential learning component), I felt inspired to match their tutorial design framework. I participated in both tutorials, took notes, and then was able to build mine with more confidence along with their suggestions for increasing student participation and asking for feedback. I also am grateful for my colleague Ann Zlotnik for designing the Information Neighborhoods graphic and informative table for my module.

Q: What are the learning objectives or outcomes you hope students will achieve after using this resource? 

A: The ideal audience for this opportunity are students who want to learn how to be informed consumers of news. Reading information online is just the first step. Evaluating that information and then potentially sharing with friends are some other steps. This content intends to increase students’ confidence with finding reliable news sources online. It encourages them to take advantage of the free library resources available to them to further enrich their academic careers, personal lives and relationships.

After completing this module, students will better understand the type and purpose of online news by employing a simple sorting method called information neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are journalism, entertainment, publicity, propaganda and raw information. When they’re interacting with news online or discussing it with friends, they can “be a good neighbor” by being able to distinguish between these types. The examples will help them better understand the underlying appeal of information they see online. Students will also be able to locate premium online news sources (through library subscriptions, without paywalls) to become a direct consumer of reliable information. 

Q: What was behind the decision to use LibWizard as the platform? Did you consider other platforms as well? 

A: LibWizard allows for text, multiple choice questions and short answers on one side of the screen while videos, websites and other images are featured on the other. Students are asked to reflect on their own opinions throughout, not just on the content they’re learning. One of the activities asks students to find an example piece of information online and to describe which information neighborhood they think it fits best in. This provides an opportunity for active learning during the tutorial. As I mentioned previously, my colleagues’ success with LibWizard inspired me to try it as well. I briefly considered Google Forms, because that’s another tool some of my colleagues used to host other virtual programs. We received a lot of positive feedback about LibWizard for its formatting abilities and usability. One student who completed Information Neighborhoods left this feedback: “I LOVE the format of the library modules, so user-friendly and easy to follow!”

Q: You wrote that the audience for this is undergraduates. How are you using Information Neighborhoods at your institution? Is it being integrated into specific courses?

A: Information Neighborhoods was originally offered as a co-curricular asynchronous module February 1-21, 2021. It was PATH-eligible, (Points Accumulated Towards Housing), in partnership with UD’s Department of Housing and Residence Life and connected to the residential curriculum’s learning outcome of “Community Living,” which reads:

“Students will develop the ability to live in a community that prioritizes the common good over individual wants or desires. Students will demonstrate healthful living and responsibility through active participation in the planning of and adherence to community standards, promotion of the safety and security of the community, demonstration of pride in their living environment and respectful confrontation of behaviors that threaten the community’s well-being. 

Residents will… 

• Articulate the characteristics of a healthy community.

• Actively engage in developing a strong community. 

• Hold others accountable in a manner that benefits all members of the community.”

In order to meet this learning outcome, the program’s relatable content encouraged students to prioritize the common good, meaning using factual and unbiased sources, over their individual wants, desires, or perspectives. Information can challenge beliefs, and this program helps students better sort out information types that they may find and talk about with friends and family. This program seeks to empower students to identify and confront information types like propaganda, and know how to instead find reliable sources to contribute to our community’s well-being and conversations in healthy and meaningful ways.

Students participating in this module received one housing point, which is used to better their position in the housing preference lottery that happens each spring. Several Communication faculty incorporated it into their courses, as did a professor in Sociology. The activity drew 1,534 student participants during the PATH-eligible time periods, and 1,579 to date. 

Q: I really like that you are asking for feedback at the conclusion. What has been the reaction from students who are using this resource? What about others at your institution? 

A: Students using Information Neighborhoods said they appreciated being asked to go out and find their own online news example, and that the experience was fun. An example reflection from a student says, “I definitely see myself being more acutely aware of the different ways that information and news is presented and what their goals might be. I also frequently have found myself wanting to read various publications, but due to paywalls, I usually just give up. I’ll definitely be using UD’s resources in regards to that.”

A faculty member who used it in their course said, “I plan to work the module into my future classes, so I hope it will remain on the site forever.”

Q: How are you assessing the use of this resource and what are the plans for ongoing use or maintenance of Information Neighborhoods?  

A: The students’ work and feedback from earlier this year will help me design another iteration of the Information Neighborhoods module. It is still freely available online, but just not worth PATH credit. I am hopeful to update the tutorial with new examples in the future. 

From the examples and neighborhood identification activity, I understood the issues students had when trying to identify an example in the entertainment neighborhood. During the News Literacy workshop, I had wanted to try finding an entertainment neighborhood news source so I chose one about Kylie Jenner and her Forbes Magazine coverage. Entertainment, however, isn’t news about entertainment or people in the entertainment industry, it’s meant to just entertain. Some students thought that the topic was the indicator, not the purpose. I plan to make a new video to cover entertainment and publicity more in depth. Raw information seemed to be a new concept to students. This might be further examined, too. 

Also, I predicted that our e-resource statistics would increase due to the module’s examination of the institution subscription to the New York Times and digital magazines on Flipster. Although students expressed enthusiasm for these, the usage statistics increased only slightly.

Q: What advice would you give others who are looking to use this resource or create their own resource like this? 

A: I would suggest starting with a known model or theory that you yourself found interesting, and adapt it to your campus’ learning needs. I always wanted to do something about evaluating online news due to Communication faculty feedback about students’ research habits, but that is such a huge topic. Finding a small portion to teach on with an experiential learning component makes it more accessible and engaging and will help you hone in on specific learning objectives. Also, outline, plan, and/or script it out for yourself and ask for feedback along the way. Many of my colleagues graciously reviewed my script before and after it went into production within LibWizard and had great suggestions, such as highlighting the public library’s news subscriptions in addition to our own. It’s important to make connections to public libraries to demonstrate their support of lifelong learning, too. Lastly, I like to recognize how we are all learning along the way with students as people, and citizens, too. I found that relating my own experiences in the module helped position the information.