Two questions that came up during our class discussion this past Thursday has me thinking: Does a network self-correct? and Should we teach how to discriminate truthful from not-so-truthful Websites (or Tweets, or posts, etc)? I’m still not sure of the answer for the first question. I keep thinking of a commercial that’s being run on television for a popular insurance company. A gentleman is using an application on his smartphone while talking to a woman he knows. She says something that is just not so, and he asks her where she got her information. She says that she got it from the Internet, and you can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true. He asks her where she got that “fact” from, and she answers, of course, the Internet!
Now, I realize that she’s not a network, but I think she may still have something there, and my answer is that I think it depends on the network. A network is composed of a group of people that do an activity together (it’s a loose definition, I know), and is only as strong as the individuals within it, and if the individuals within it all believe the same non-fact as a fact, then the network will not self-correct. (Think of a network of KKK members, or members of Westboro Baptist Church, or extreme right-wing Republicans.) No matter how often someone with more realistic or truthful information infiltrates and attempts to get the members to understand where they are incorrect, all the effort expended will be useless. These groups are quite happy living in their little bubbles. However, academic, remotely scholarly networks, and even networks composed of groups of John Q. Publics would self-correct; eventually someone would drag into the conversation a truth that could easily checked out and the course would then be changed. I think most of us would like to think that we value truth so highly that there would be no other option but to self-correct.
That idea ties in with the latter question: should we teach students how to decipher fact from fiction? Early on in my undergraduate days I had an instructor that took the time to teach just that (even though she placed Wikipedia* into the fictitious group). I already knew most of the information she taught, but was amazed by the number of my classmates that did not! So, I say “aye” in response, but also feel that this should be taught much earlier in a student’s academic career. I don’t think it should be left to the college professor to do so since they already have a lot to cram into a 16-week semester.
We also took a quick look at a YouTube video entitled The Twitter Experiment. It caught my eye, so I went back and watched it again, along with a few others on Enrique Legaspi in California. I have to say that I am intrigued, and will probably try to test the format Dr. Rankin and Legaspi used in my own classroom, and if it works, will use it now and again to keep my students engaged. Using Twitter like they did engaged many of their students who would not have otherwise participated in discussion, and I can certainly see the value of increased student participation, particularly when it comes to my subject areas. We also took a quick look at Facebook, and I can even say that using a group model there may also be something I’ll seriously look at. Wow, this class may be rubbing off on me! 🙂
* Wikipedia, being an encyclopedia constructed by the global Internet community, is not accepted by many college professors as a credible source for formal research or citation purposes. I tend to agree, but will admit I use Wikipedia regularly as an informal source, particularly when I need to refresh my memory on a topic or as a guidepost during formal research.