KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo is one of 10 campuses nationwide chosen to develop online civic literacy programs, to prepare students to combat digital polarization and fake news.
“We hope to make students aware that digital polarization exists, and help them become more discerning consumers of information,” said Polly Boruff-Jones, dean of the library. “We want them to understand how social media can both serve to form community, but it can also tear communities apart.”
The digital polarization project is an initiative by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project. Its goal is to equip college students with skills for online civic reasoning, and to encourage them to make positive interventions in the online information environments they inhabit.
The 2016 election and current political environment have brought to light some of the challenges of the digital environment, including social media, Boruff-Jones said, especially since so many people get their news and engage in discussion of news issues online. Anyone who has ever engaged in a Facebook dispute has experienced digital polarization.
“The most important aspect of it is to raise awareness among our students that digital polarization is occurring,” Boruff-Jones said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize it’s happening, and that a lot of the information they take in every day may be incorrect. Our college students are living in that environment. We want to teach them how they can make that environment better, and what to do when they see polarization happening.”
As part of the program, IU Kokomo faculty will develop, adopt, and assess an online civic literacy curricula, focused specifically on vetting information encountered online. The program will be incorporated into new and/or existing classes in a variety of disciplines and in co-curricular activities.
At IU Kokomo, plans include a campus read of a book about digital polarization, along with use of the curriculum developed in classes in several majors, either in face-to-face instruction or online modules, starting in fall 2018.
Yan He, information literacy librarian and steering committee member, said the program merges civic and information literacy.
“Students are telling us they don’t know who to trust,” she said. “This allows us to open the conversation about better ways of interacting online. We want the students to be responsible information consumers, and not just pass on information because they connect with it emotionally, or agree with it. We can provide tools to evaluate information, know if it is good or reliable, and how to share it.”
Boruff-Jones co-leads the planning effort with Paul Cook, assistant professor of English. Steering committee members in addition to Yan He include Todd Bradley, associate professor of political science, Mark Canada, vice chancellor for academic affairs, and student Calip Deaton.
Other institutions chosen to participate include Black Hills State University (South Dakota.); The City University of New York (CUNY) College of Staten Island (New York.); Georgia College (Georgia); Metropolitan State University of Denver (Colorado); Millersville University of Pennsylvania; San Jose State University (California); Texas A&M University-Central Texas; University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and Washington State University Vancouver.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.