Introducing a new course for a critical moment in media literacy

Today we debut an exciting new course at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. It’s called “Fact or Fiction?” and it comes at an appropriate moment for many ongoing conversations about media and information literacy in a so-called post-truth era. Threats from mis/disinformation, fake news, and propaganda are problems not only of supply but also of demand—we need to better understand social and psychological forces that contribute to the take-up of such material, in addition to the economics of clicks and currency of likes that drives much of this information profusion and media confusion. This is class is about all that and more, including a dive into data literacy and numeracy for journalists and strategic communicators.

The Fact of Fiction course description and learning outcomes are below, and the syllabus is available via Google Drive and as a PDF.

Course Description

Fact or Fiction is a course about making sense of information in the digital age. In a supposedly “post-truth” moment, how can media creators and consumers alike evaluate information to determine what’s credible? More broadly, what are the forces and factors that shape how we come to understand what’s “fake” and what’s “factual” in an increasingly complex media environment? Now more than ever, amid declining trust in professions and institutions, it matters to understand dynamics of trust, verification, misinformation, propaganda, and the social spread of information. This course will focus on two key areas: (1) an explanation of key cases and controversies—from fake news to the complicated role of Facebook and other platforms—that shape how people perceive matters of fact, and which are relevant for journalism, public relations, advertising, and other media domains; and (2) an introduction to data literacy and numeracy, or the ability to apply basic numerical and statistical concepts. These two broad areas will be applied in evaluating how media workers, such as journalists and strategic communicators, develop notions of truth, ethics, and transparency, among other things. In all, our goal is to equip you with a foundation in media literacy and statistical literacy such that you can avoid being duped and help others to do the same.

Course Learning Outcomes

This course is designed to help students achieve certain learning outcomes and competencies. At the conclusion of the term, you should be able to:

  • Describe and explain key concepts, cases, and controversies related to the creation, circulation, and consumption of news (fake and otherwise), both historically and contemporaneously.
  • Identify and interpret key debates regarding objectivity, propaganda, mis/disinformation, news literacy, verification, trust and accountability, and other concerns relevant to media work and media life.
  • Articulate and evaluate similarities and differences in approaches to truth among media occupations (e.g., journalism, PR, advertising) and media practices (e.g., documentary filmmaking, photography, data visualization).
  • Evaluate the relative benefits and drawbacks of digital media technologies—algorithms, platforms, social media, etc.—for the spread of facts and fakes.
  • Define and discuss notions of numeracy, statistical literacy, logical reasoning, and scientific methods.
  • Apply class concepts in conducting original research (a digital ethnography) to assess the techniques that media actors use to portray reality.
  • Interpret findings from research, apply them to cases that interest you personally and/or professionally, and report and present on these to your colleagues.