A question we get asked a lot about our four moves curriculum is whether it sticks. Can a two or three week intervention really change people’s approach online to information permanently?
Remember, we don’t do traditional news literacy. We don’t do traditional media literacy. We don’t teach people about newspapers, communications theory, or any of that. We just do one thing — give them a set of things to do in their first 60 seconds after encountering a piece of media. We do that for two to three weeks of class time, and talk a bit about practical issues around online information, algorithms, trolling, and the like.
We do take some efforts to check persistence. We do the post-assessment several weeks after the last class session, to see what happens after skills decay. We test with authentic prompts, to try and mimic the context students will exercise the skills as precisely as possible. But still the question comes up — are students going to keep doing this? Like, really really? A formal assessment of this would involve some seriously creepy surveillance of students. But we got a powerful anecdotal piece of evidence a bit ago.
The background: CUNY Staten Island implemented our two-week curriculum in their Core 100 class for freshman last fall. A few weeks ago the coordinator of the Core program got this letter from one of the school’s scholarship advisors about some spring scholarship applications. The advisor writing it had no idea of the changes in the Core program and had never heard of the four moves. I am reproducing it in its entirety here, partly because I want you to know I am not cherry-picking here, and partly because the advisor writes with a beautiful clarity that I’m not sure I could match (I love a beautiful email!):
I’ve been meaning to tell you for a few months now that the Core program deserves a HUGE kudos, and that I am very impressed with the training students are receiving through Core 100.
Each year, I run our campus competition for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, which is a prestigious opportunity that gives students generous stipends, internship experience, mentoring and professional development training. As part of our campus competition, my committee and I interview candidates as the final stage in the nomination process, as all candidates must then attend an extensive day-long interview session at the Watson Foundation.
One of the questions our committee asks applicants is, “Where do you get your news?” The fellowship seeks students who are knowledgeable of domestic and global issues, as well as students who are motivated to affect positive social change. This question is often asked of nominees who go forward into the official competition, therefore, we make it a point to ask this question for our internal campus competition.
In years past, we received answers such as social media, or perhaps one or two popular news stations, etc. Occasionally a student would cite the NY Times as a primary source for news. This year, we were astounded at the answers we received to this question. Nearly every applicant told us how they compare different news stations for different perspectives, and how they seek to verify the news they are reading. Most applicants further cited international sources of news for an even wider perspective. We couldn’t believe the change this year – how intelligent and worldly and diligent they all sounded! (More so than most older adults!) One of the applicants told us that she learned to do this in Core 100.
Whatever you’re doing, it’s working. I’m very impressed and quite moved.
Last night I mentioned this letter to Paul Cook, who has taught using these methods at Indiana University Kokomo. I expected him to say something along the lines of “Wow, that’s incredible!”. But he didn’t. He said “Honestly, Mike, that doesn’t surprise me at all.” And he was right. It’s moving to see here, but it’s also completely consistent with our experience of teaching the course. It’s moving to me because it’s what we see too.
You see the moves in Michele’s description, of course — find other coverage, investigate the source. The habits we push. But you see something that I often have trouble explaining to others — with the right habits you find students start sounding like entirely different people. They start being, in some ways, very different people. Less reactive, more reflective, more curious. If the habits stick, rather than decay, that effect can cumulative, because the students have done that most powerful of things — they have learned how to learn. And the impact of that can change a person’s life.