Combatting Information Pollution through the Newspapers on Wikipedia Project

Concurrent Session 6

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Brief Abstract

The web is part of the information ecosystem in which we all learn and participate, and it is polluted with mis/disinformation. Our session explores how higher education can take action to combat information pollution through the Newspapers on Wikipedia project. Participants will learn concrete steps to help combat mis/disinformation.

Presenters

As the Director of Digital Pedagogy and Media at Middlebury College, my goal is to create digital learning opportunities and environments that support learner agency, inclusion, and equity. I am also keenly interested in supporting learners’ critical engagement with the discourses that surround educational technology and digital media. I received my doctorate in communication and education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2008; prior to Middlebury, I spent 10 years as a professor of Instructional Technology in the College of Education at Towson University (outside of Baltimore, MD), where I taught on ground, hybrid, and fully online courses in instructional technology and qualitative research methods. Much of this work revolved around helping teachers and administrators to make thoughtful, research-informed decisions how best to use technology to support their teaching and their students’ learning.

Additional Authors

Amy Collier received her doctorate in Family Studies from Texas Woman’s University in 2008. Through her graduate studies in social sciences and 10+ years working in faculty development, Amy has been an advocate for learners and teachers across a variety of educational institutions, from community-based service organizations to large public broad-access universities. Currently, Amy is the Associate Provost for Digital Learning at Middlebury College, where her strategic vision positions Middlebury as a leader in creating and sustaining a global learning community through digital pedagogies and technologies. Prior to this, Amy was the Senior Director for Inspiration and Outreach in the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning at Stanford University, where she oversaw online and blended course design initiatives, conducted research to inform effective teaching practice, and was a strong advocate for evidence-based instructional improvement, strategy and planning.

Extended Abstract

Introduction

The web is part of the information ecosystem in which we all learn and participate, and we know more clearly than ever how misinformation can impact our country and our world. Misinformation on the web is polarizing us, it’s radicalizing us, and we should be paying attention. Better yet, higher education should be leading the way in improving our information ecosystem.  

What can we do? Caulfield (2017) suggests a pedagogical approach for addressing web pollution: information environmentalism. Like traditional environmental movements, information environmentalism seeks to understand the causes of pollution, advocates for cleaning up pollution where we see it, and suggests ways of being good citizens who contribute to making our environment livable and sustainable. It is an active approach to creating structural change on the web.

Our session is a call to action for those in the education space to participate in efforts to combat mis/disinformation on the web. Through discussion and hands-on engagement with the Newspapers on Wikipedia project, an educational project currently underway at our institution, participants will gain concrete actions that they can take with their students to help combat mis/disinformation.

Description of the Newspapers on Wikipedia Project

The Newspapers on Wikipedia project is part of a broader initiative at our institution on Information Environmentalism. The Newspapers on Wikipedia (NOW) project is an initiative founded by Mike Caulfield in Spring 2018 with a goal of writing 1,000 articles on Wikipedia about historic local news sources by the end of this 2018. This project supports people’s ability to read laterally, which is an important fact-checking skill. It also combats mis/disinformation by increasing the findability of credible local news sources, since Wikipedia articles rank well on Google searches. Participants in the NOW project write Wikipedia articles, improve existing Wikipedia pages of local newspapers, and add info boxes for Wikipedia articles about newspapers that do not already have info boxes.

Currently, six students (undergraduate and graduate) and two staff members at our institution are leading the initiative. In the process of undertaking historical research to write articles about local newspapers, students are also learning about the process of writing for Wikipedia, including how to meet Wikipedia’s Notability criteria for new articles; developing skills/strategies, mindsets, and broader ecological (social/political context) awareness that allows them to critically analyze digital pollution (mis/disinformation, polarization, unethical data siphoning and sharing); and enacting plans to combat it.

Session Format and Outcomes

Our session will be framed by the overarching question, How can higher education take action to clean up our information environment, with students in the lead? We will invite participants to explore this question in a conversation guided by the following discussion prompts:

  • What is higher education’s responsibility toward our digital information environment?
  • What concrete actions can higher education institutions and stakeholders take to combat mis/disinformation?
  • How can we invite our students into the process of combating mis/disinformation?

After 10-15 minutes of conversation, we will invite the session participants to take action in Wikipedia, using the approaches we have used at our institution. We are planning to bring students to OLC Innovate and to have students to facilitating the hands-on part of the session. As part of the hands-on section, participants will have the opportunity to explore the processes that students, faculty, and staff in our NOW project have used, including undertaking historical research to write articles about local newspapers, writing for Wikipedia, and developing skills/strategies, mindsets, and broader ecological awareness that allows them to critically analyze digital pollution and enacting plans to combat it.

With the remaining 10 minutes of the session, we will ask participants to reflect on their experience of editing Wikipedia and identify at least 1 concrete action that they plan to take around information environmentalism when they return to their institution.

By the end of the session, participants will have had the opportunity to articulate their stance regarding responsibility toward our information environment, and will leave with concrete actions that they can take with their students to help combat mis/disinformation through the NOW project.

Significance to the Conference and to the Field

While information environmentalism is not new, it is gaining new traction, relevance, and urgency, and points to an opportunity for higher education to lead deep and meaningful change in the information environment in which we operate. The Newspapers on Wikipedia project is a concrete step toward information environmentalism that can help drive change and move the needle on cleaning up our polluted information ecosystem. The session should appeal to a broad range of participants, as we see clear curricular connections between information environmentalism efforts and a range of topics and content areas, including those that address drivers (visual/UX, psychological/social, economic, algorithmic, data) of misinformation spread via web platforms and services; information design, art, rhetoric; economics; big data; and digital literacy. Classes on topics that are impacted by the spread of misinformation (climate science, immunizations, public health, etc.) are also potential locations for information environmentalism efforts.

References

Caulfield, M. (2017). Info-environmentalism: An introduction. EDUCAUSE Review, 52(6), 92-93. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/10/info-environmentalism-an-introd...