Critically evaluating information in digital environments can be a complicated process comprised of multiple steps and ways of viewing and thinking about the information. Having almost constant and instant access to vast amounts of information has conditioned us to far too often simply accept the information that is presented as fact without question. Instead, we should retrain ourselves and our students to resist the temptation to believe everything we see. Rather, we must adopt a healthy dose of skepticism and learn to question everything. To better accomplish this I developed a new framework for the book Fighting Fake News! for helping students to become SUPER Critical Thinkers. I call it CAPES.
Taking inspiration from the CRAPP Test and the CARS Checklist, I looked for commonalities across the frameworks and also identified any important concepts that were not explicitly addressed. I then focused on what I considered to be the five most important factors for students to consider. What emerged was a new framework for students to utilize - CAPES: A Guide for Empowering Students to Critically Evaluate Information. Here you can see how the three frameworks overlap with one another.
Let's take a closer look at each of the five factors of the CAPES framework and what they mean for you and your students.
The first step in critically examining information is to determine who or what is the source of the information. Before deciding whether or not to believe a story, one should determine the credentials of the author and what qualifies them to report or share the information. By identifying the author, their level of expertise, and their bias, students will have a clearer understanding of the authenticity and reliability of the information being presented.
After evaluating the credentials of the source, the next step in the CAPES framework is to determine the accuracy of the information that is being presented. The goal is to ensure that the information is factual, up to date, supported by evidence, and comprehensive. Accuracy is the one factor that exists in CAPES, the CRAAP Test, and the CARS Checklist. We want to be sure that the information that we are consuming and sharing is actually correct.
As teachers in traditional reading environments, we have always sought to help our students understand and identify the author’s purpose. I can remember vividly working with my fourth graders on this skill and using the acronym PIE - persuade, inform, and entertain. Information on internet or in digital environments is not necessarily that different in this regard with the exception that there is a great deal of sources that are trying to sell you something. The third super searcher strategy of CAPES focuses on the purpose of the information. To guide this section, we will use the acronym PIES: PERSUADE, INFORM, ENTERTAIN, and SELL.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn when interacting with information and with others is how to monitor our own emotions. We are thinking and feeling beings, and we should recognize and acknowledge that much of the information that we are confronted with in digital environments is not only intended to reach us on an intellectual level, but more likely than not it is created with our emotions in mind. This emotional connection can be either a positive or negative experience. Many sources of information that are designed to persuade our thinking may cause us to feel outraged by their claims. Others may appeal seek to gain our empathy and support in their cause.
To help your students better understand the role that their emotions play in critically evaluating information, introduce them to Robert Plutchik’s theory of emotion which identifies eight basic emotions: Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, Disgust, Surprise, Trust, and Anticipation. You and your students might recognize that five of the eight are characters from the Disney / Pixar film Inside Out.
We have now reached the fifth and final factor of the CAPES framework: Support. While each of the previous factors are incredibly important and necessary for critically evaluating information, the search for the truth may rest on whether or not any claim that a source is making can be supported by outside resources. Certainly, we have all heard the philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Perhaps in the age of the internet and fake news, an update to this question might be, “If only one person says something on the internet or in the media, does it make it true?”
To combat fake news and to fight for the truth, we need to help our students to think more fact checkers and be less like passive consumers of information. To do this, we have to teach them to read beyond the information that is on a single site or from a single source.
“Rather than waging war against the internet and information technology, Housand argues, we should be teaching young people to be critical consumers of it. . . . Housand puts forth ideas that manage to bridge the gap between theory and practice—and he does it all without underestimating (or pandering to) the teachers or students he imagines using his guide. Without being glib or overly serious, Housand has created a highly accessible, highly useful guide.”