The American Democracy Project’s #Digipo Initiative at Western Kentucky University
By Molly Kerby, MPH, PhD, Western Kentucky University
In spring 2017, when the Digital Polarization Initiative, or “DigiPo”, was in its infancy, I assigned students in my Introduction to Social Justice course a news analysis project using this new platform. The DigiPo project is particularly timely since trust in the media is in decline and accusations of “fake news” stories fill headlines and Twitter feeds on a daily basis. In addition, students are constantly bombarded with “news” delivered through digital sources and social media, making “fact-checking” a much needed educational and civic skill.
DigiPo was the end or synthesis project for this particular course. Early in the semester, students were assign to groups based on themes related to Social Justice League Heroes (The Tuner, The Reframer, The Change Agent, The Clarifier, The Advocate) (For more information see John Vassello, Binghamton University). Throughout the semester, groups lead discussions on assigned readings based on the view-points or “super-powers” of their specified hero that prepared them for critically evaluating information. For their final project, each group identified three, broad-reaching, claims in recent news headlines (including Twitter campaigns/hashtags, FaceBook, and Tumblr) related to their hero’s superpower appearing and fact-checked them using sources available through DigiPo. For example, the Advocates, or those who advocate for people who do not have a voice, identified the claim that “homelessness is on the rise in US cities.” In another example, the Turners, or those who promote organizational cohesiveness and ethics, looked at the claim of “professional protesters being bused to political rallies for pay.”
Student were also permitted to use DigiPo’s list of headlines not yet analyzed or edit an existing page rather than coming up with their own titles; quite a few student groups elected one of these methods for at least one of their required artifacts. In addition to creating a DigoPo wiki, students were asked to write an analysis and synthesis paper based on the assignment. The paper began with an interconnected introduction and a statement of the social justice issues presented on DigiPo. The body of the paper linked definitions, concepts, and theories used to analyze the claim on DigiPo. And, finally the conclusion focused on the DigiPo project and what they gained by using this interactive platform.
While this project has a lot of moving parts and components, the end results go deeper than discussions and debates over the accuracy of a news story. By scaffolding other assignments prior to using the DigiPo wiki, students are given tools to effectively research contemporary headlines that assist them in tracking stories back to original sources and headlines, evaluating resources, and presenting cogent deliberations.
One drawback to DigiPo was using the Google Chrome extensions for building the wiki (annotations, footnotes, sources, etc.). I finally took over that part of the assignment and, admittedly, I had problems as well. Students do, however, have the option of working in Google Docs rather than adding the information directly to the wiki. None of these problems were prohibitive to student learning. I plan to teach an entire course on “fake news” and civic talk in spring 2018 using DigiPo as well as other materials provided by AASCU and the American Democracy Project.