What Is True/What Is Fake? Journalism Today

What Is True/What Is Fake? Journalism Today

Aaron Barlow

English/Arts & Sciences

Introduction to Journalism

Activity Description: Provide a brief description of the activity

Relation of a story by the professor about an encounter with an elephant (though it can be any story relevant to the instructor’s life that can be verified to some degree, at least, through research). The students are then asked to determine what truth there is in the story, if any, and to justify their conclusions. After the first class, the students are asked to search diligently across the internet for proof/dismissal of the professor’s claims. At the end of the discussion, students vote on the truth (or lack of it) of the story. If they ask the professor to tell them if the vote is correct or not, the response should be a shrug and the comment, “The question is, can you trust me?” This generally leaves the students baffled for a moment but, as the course moves on to other considerations, they generally start to understand.

Learning Goals: What do you aim to achieve with this activity?

Students are expected to come away with an understanding of the limits of classroom authority and of research itself.

Timing: At what point in the lesson or semester do you use this activity? How much classroom time do you devote to it? How much out-of-class time is expected?

This exercise is best done early in the semester. It generally takes a full class period plus a couple of homework hours and then about half an hour of the next class.

Logistics: What preparation is needed for this activity? What instructions do you give students? Is the activity low-stakes, high-stakes, or something else?

The professor needs to prepare relation of the story carefully, including within it enough clues for the students to be able to research the claims made. Students need to be taking notes while the professor talks and need to understand the use that will be made of those notes in the homework assignment. Before beginning to tell the tale, the instructor needs to carefully prepare the students.

Assessment: How do you assess this activity? What assessment measures do you use? Do you use a VALUE rubric? If not, how did you develop your rubric? Is your course part of the college-wide general education assessment initiative?

Because of the nature of this activity, which lies outside of assessment structures and can be harmed by them, this is not assessed.

Reflection: How well did this activity work in your classroom? Would you repeat it? Why or why not? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you address them? What, if anything, would you change? What did students seem to enjoy about the activity?

I have been using and developing this exercise for a decade and in a number of different classes and will continue to do so. It helps students understand the differing reactions, in terms of truth value, to different speakers in different positions. Plus, it introduces them to research tasks of a sort they generally have not encountered in other classes.

Additional Information: Please share any additional comments and further documentation of the activity – e.g. assignment instructions, rubrics, examples of student work, etc. These can be links to pages or posts on the OpenLab.

As part of a book I edited, I include the story I use for this exercise: https://www.academia.edu/888435/Elephant_Morning. When I relate it, I tell it differently, making sure to include dates, places and verifiable events as a basis for student research. The structure of the essay itself comes out, in part, from earlier uses of this exercise–but it also contains its own inaccuracies, liberties taken for the sake of the story. Every instructor has a tale or her or his own that can be used similarly.

Please share a helpful link to a pages or post on the OpenLab

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