Teaching News Literacy for Today’s Complicated Information Ecosystem

The News & Information Literacy Across the Curriculum initiative teaches students skills needed to effectively engage with and evaluate information.

Endicott Soundings Article Davis Photo by Terry Slater
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Using critical thinking skills to decipher the reliability and credibility of information, whether it comes through print, television, or the internet, is an essential skillset in today’s world. High-quality, reliable, and verifiable news and information is what allows us to understand issues affecting the world, the nation, and our local communities. However, challenges to analyzing and assessing the nature and quality of information are not new—especially in today’s social-media environment where misleading, sensationalized or outright false information exists alongside reputable news and it is often profitable to create and circulate problematic information.

A generous grant from the Davis Educational Foundation has given 20 Endicott College faculty members representing six schools the opportunity to participate in a two-year initiative focused on News & Information Literacy Across the Curriculum (NILAC). The initiative, spearheaded by Co-Directors Dr. Mark Herlihy, Associate Dean, School of Arts & Sciences and Chair of Humanities, and Dr. Amy Damico, Professor in the School of Communication and Faculty Advisor to the Endicott Scholars Honors Program, is working to support the continual development of the critical reading and critical thinking skills young adults need to determine the nature and reliability of news and information they receive on a continual basis. A skill that will no doubt serve them well in their future.

Endicott Soundings Article Davis

To kick off the initiative, faculty across multiple disciplines began learning about news and information literacy through a series of speakers and workshops between August and December 2020. In January 2021, the cohort participated in a two-day institute. This spring, project participants began implementing news and information literacy curricular components into classes, embracing Endicott’s “across the curriculum approach” to encourage the instruction of news literacy needed by all students, regardless of major. During year two of the initiative, participants will refine and further develop lessons and units and share them with colleagues in an effort to promote the goals of the project more broadly.

Damico is no stranger to this topic. In 2019, she released a reference handbook, Media, Journalism, & “Fake News,” which provides readers with an overview of news and media in the U.S. and discusses the economic state of the news industry, partisan news, misinformation and disinformation, issues of representation, and the impact of social media.

“The goal of this initiative is to continue to equip our students with the critical thinking and news and information literacy skills needed to make sense of content they encounter.”—Dr. Amy Damico

“The information ecosystem is an evolving, complicated space filled with a range of problematic to terrific content, often being presented at the same time,” says Damico. “The goal of this initiative is to continue to equip our students with the critical thinking and news and information literacy skills needed to make sense of content they encounter.” She says that while it is perhaps easy for students to think of news and information in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘fake’ and ‘fact,’ these are not particularly helpful terms because they don’t represent the complexities of the information we see every day.

“In the assignments that NILAC faculty piloted in the spring, students learned to consume news more critically,” says Herlihy. “They learned about bias by comparing accounts of the same story from different sources, they used techniques to verify claims made in the media, and they followed news on specific topics from sources known for being objective. Feedback from students on these assignments was very positive, suggesting that there is a hunger among them to see past the spin and gain clarity on the important issues of the day." 

“Feedback from students…suggests that there is a hunger among them to see past the spin and gain clarity on the important issues of the day."—Dr. Mark Herlihy

Part of the NILAC project is to build out and provide a Digital Resource Center containing curricular components that support students in their development of news and information literacy skills. This Digital Resource Center is a work in progress aiming to provide materials and resources to help students, faculty, and interested community members evaluate and authenticate news and information. So far, it includes an Election 2020 Resource page (which is currently being redesigned), a usage guide and list of information verification tools like factcheck.org and fotoforensics.com, and a curated collection of books for further reading.

Looking ahead to June, NILAC will host a summer institute that will be open to the community, and year two of the grant will implement a ‘train the trainer’ model to increase involvement among faculty across the College.

The NILAC leadership team is Herlihy; Damico; Dr. Sam Alexander, Associate Professor, English; Bridget Cunio, Reference Librarian; and Dr. Melissa Yang, Professor, Communication. An additional 18 faculty members across Schools round out the team working to engage students in becoming active, life-long critical news and information consumers. The group already has three commitments from additional faculty for year two.

The NILAC grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis's retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. The Foundation funds academic initiatives at higher education institutions in New England and its relationship with Endicott dates back to 2007, including grants for critical thinking, digital liberal arts and critical inquiry, alternate academic delivery, and strategic planning.