University Libraries’ Citizen Literacy helps students become savvy information consumers

When Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005 it not only described misleading rhetoric during the ramp-up to the Iraq war, it captured a central dilemma of our modern media environment: shattered, segmented media ecosystems allow many of us to create our own version of reality. In such an environment, leaders can manipulate us with words that sound truthful but are false.

Determining reality in a “post-truth” era is challenging. It is also a central tenet of citizenship. Particularly during a presidential election season.

How can faculty teach students to become savvy consumers of information in this environment?

The University Libraries has created a new online toolkit called Citizen Literacy to tackle the issue. Launched to coincide with the final weeks of the 2020 election season, Citizen Literacy promotes essential information skills like algorithmic literacy, news literacy, how to evaluate expertise, how to investigate the veracity of online sources through lateral reading, and how to become an informed voter.

“We hope faculty will use these tools to engage students with these important information literacy topics in the context of specific academic disciplines,” said Rob Detmering, Ekstrom information literacy coordinator and one of the site’s creators. Amber Willenborg, online learning and digital media librarian, also created content and narrated the videos, and Terri Holtze, head of web services, designed the online site experience.

The site contains short videos, downloadable handouts and infographics that can be incorporated into syllabi or coursework.

In the news literacy section are strategies to help students examine the value of credible news sources and identify deceptive stories, including “fake news.” Another section helps students understand algorithms whose unseen mechanisms skew online searches in a way that impacts privacy and political understanding.

The toolkit includes multiple ideas for class activities that can be easily adapted across disciplines,  and that work in both online and face-to-face settings.  Faculty can easily incorporate parts in their courses.

To learn more, please visit the site or contact Information Literacy Coordinator Rob Detmering.

Jimmy Stewart gets classically political

by Brittney Thompson

Can one person really make a difference? Is all it really takes for one person’s voice to be heard? Director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) attempts to answer these questions in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, Rear Window) stars as Jefferson Smith, an Everyman character who generations of audiences can’t help but get behind. Jefferson is naïve, but hopeful. As the den father of a boy scouts group, how could he be anything but kind and selfless for sake of his community? Unfortunately, the bigwigs in Washington take him as a simpleton and assume that Jefferson (along with being quite the patriot) will be easy to manipulate into carrying out misdeeds (as long as Jefferson believes what he is doing is for AMERICA) or to set him up as the perfect scapegoat. Ultimately, Mr. Smith is selected by Washington to replace a recently deceased senator if only because he is a ‘good ole boy’ who isn’t quite long in the tooth with politics yet. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington not only has an alluring plotline, but does great things with language. This is a movie that almost everyone knows by one scene (even if they’ve never seen the movie in full): the filibuster ordeal. Here is where some of the best speeches in film history are made. If anything, we could all take a lesson from Jefferson in public speaking. This film also works to spark the audience interests in politics for the previously apolitical. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. The SGA movie collection has two copies.