Thinking Critically About Information and Media
You’re hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon. You see a coiled snake on the narrow trail. Is it poisonous? One of your friends says it’s a rattlesnake and you should throw rocks at it to scare it away. Your other friend consults a Grand Canyon guidebook and identifies it as a gopher snake, which looks and acts like a rattlesnake but isn’t poisonous. Which of these information sources will you rely on to make a decision? Why does it matter?
This scenario is more dramatic than most day-to-day situations, but we often need information to make decisions, solve problems, complete school or work assignments, and navigate our information-saturated world. learning to think more critically about the information you encounter will help you better understand what information is and why it’s created and give you the skills to effectively find, evaluate, and use it for your own purposes.
With so much information swirling around us on a daily basis, sharpening our critical thinking skills can also give us a better sense of what to trust and what to dismiss. News media and other sources often use sensationalized headlines to get your attention. Online headlines are sometimes designed to make you click on a link despite your better judgment. We call this tactic “clickbait.” All of this attention grabbing by news agencies, advertisers, and others puts the burden on us to think critically about the trustworthiness of information sources.
Thinking critically requires us to slow down and gather information before settling on a conclusion. One way to think more critically about any source of information is to ask the five basic questions you probably learned in elementary school--who? what? when? where? why?
In the context of information from the Web or other media sources, you might ask:
- Who is providing the information?
- What is the information telling me?
- When was it published, posted, or broadcast?
- Where did they get the information, data, etc. (sources)?
- Why are they publishing, posting, or broadcasting this information (e.g., to persuade, inform, alert, etc.)?
Here are some videos that may help you think more critically about information we find online.
“Online Verification Skills — Video 1: Introductory Video” by NewsWise
“Online Verification Skills — Video 2: Investigate the Source” by NewsWise
“Online Verification Skills — Video 3: Find the Original Source” by NewsWise
“Online Verification Skills — Video 4: Look for Trusted Work” by NewsWise
“What is critical thinking?” by teachphilosophy (Youtube)
“Helping Students Identify Fake News with the Five C's of Critical Consuming” by John Spencer (YouTube)
“Media and Critical Thinking” by COMM Study with Dr. U (YouTube)