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How can a popular party game help students become better evaluators of the credibility of the information they find on the internet?

Two Truths and a Lie involves making three statements about yourself, one of them a lie; the challenge for the rest of the players is to guess the lie. I have adapted this game to help students become better consumers of information in the popular media. I teach a nonmajors general science course that fulfills a general education requirement, and one of the learning objectives is for students to be able to evaluate the credibility of science information as expressed in media designed for a popular audience.

Here’s how it works: every other week I post three articles (or photos) in a discussion forum in our LMS. Two of the articles are “good” science; one is false. I take care to not to make it too obvious which tell the truth and which does not. The students then must decide which is the “lie” and explain how they came to that decision. The discussion forum is set so that the students can’t see their classmates’ answers until they post their own. This forces them to make their own conclusion. After they post their own, they are supposed to comment on some of their classmates’ answers—similar to a “post once, respond twice” model of discussion. If they disagree with their classmate’s choice, then they might point out other evidence or realize that their classmate has seen evidence they missed. If they agree with their classmate, then they might comment about how they used different evidence. Students have a week to complete the discussion as they work to figure out which article is untrue.

I start the semester with an easy choice and work toward less obvious ones. For example, early this spring, I posted articles about walking moss, zombie fungus that takes over ants’ brains, and a flower that smells like a corpse. Before the articles were posted, we had talked about characteristics of science—objective, measurable, based on experimentation, and so on—but I didn’t teach the class techniques to identify fake news. It was up to each student how to figure out which was the lie. Some students researched the different organisms to see whether other sources referenced them. Some students critiqued the websites themselves, looking at which were more reputable or simply looked more professional (e.g., on account of the types of advertisements or the presence of spelling and grammar mistakes). Most students did correctly identify the walking moss as the lie, but their grade is based on the discussion instead of getting the answer correct—although I do keep track of how well students are doing so I know whether they are meeting the learning goal for the course.

The rubric I use prioritizes the discussion instead of the correctness of their answer:

Discussion Rubric

 Unacceptable
0 pts
Basic
1 pts
Advanced
2 pts
Substance

Explores, explains, expands upon the issue being discussed; uses text and experience to discuss subject matter; demonstrates analysis on various levels other than the personal
Incorporation reflects no evidence of reading article, no experience and no analysis.Somewhat unclear that article was understood by incorporation into discussion; some experience and analysis exploredVery clear that article was understood by incorporation into discussion
Provocativeness

Promotes interaction and asks provocative questions or makes provocative remarks
No evidence that any other points have been heard/Unwitting repetition of questions or points made by othersOne or more points in discussion only vaguely built upon/refuted from research.At least one point in discussion clearly built upon/refuted from research or multiple participants' point of view.
Timeliness

Timeliness of discussion contributions
Comments made only within the past 24 hoursComments somewhat concentrated during the week (e.g., all made within a somewhat brief period of time)Comments distributed throughout the discussion timeframe
Quantity

Quantity of contributions
Replies only (regardless of number)Original comment only; no repliesActive participation; some original comments; some thoughtful replies
Professionalism

Adherence to grammar conventions and respectful interactions
Seven or more grammar errors or lack of respect; may be removed from discussionFewer than five grammar errors; no disrespectful comments or behaviorsFewer than two grammar errors; no disrespectful comments or behaviors

             Total points possible: 10

After the discussion is over for the week, I tell the students which article was the lie and help them see important clues showing which was the lie. In this way, the students gain new techniques for solving the next two truths and a lie. By the end of the semester, students were much savvier in being able to pick out the lies: researching the author’s background, questioning whether a study’s results should be applied in a different scenario, and finding that while one small study might suggest one conclusion, there are many more studies that support a different conclusion. All this was with little direct instruction from me, and it was in an interesting and engaging way.

Being able to determine factual information is an essential skill in many areas of study, not just science. Indeed, information literacy is crucial for students to succeed in academics, in the workplace, and as educated citizens (Ruediger & Jung, 2007). Even though students are proficient in navigating the internet, they are not necessarily savvy researchers who can evaluate information when confronted with so many sources (Kearley & Phillips, 2002). By learning information literacy strategies, students become more successful researchers and better able to articulate their positions (Samson, 2010). Two Truths and a Lie–type assignments can help students to develop some of these skills for evaluating sources in a way that keeps them engaged. Ultimately, we end up closer to our goal of truly educated students: not only full of knowledge but also able to continue learning long after they leave our classrooms.

References

Kearley, J. P., & Phillips, L. (2002). Distilling the information literacy standards. Journal of Library Administration, 37(3–4), 411–424. https://doi.org/10.1300/j111v37n03_34

Ruediger, C., & Jung, D. (2007). When it all comes together. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 14(1), 79–87. https://doi.org/10.1300/j106v14n01_06

Samson, S. (2010). Information literacy learning outcomes and student success. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(3), 202–210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2010.03.002


Kim Geier, MS, has been teaching science for 20 years, the past nine of which have been at the University of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Virginia.