News Release from AASCU

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2018-02-09

Contact: Jennifer Walpole 202-478-4665

AASCU ANNOUNCES 2018 AMERICAN DEMOCRACY PROJECT DIGITAL POLARIZATION INITIATIVE

AASCU and 10 of its member institutions partner to equip college students with the ability to navigate the online news environment

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—Today, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project (ADP) announced its new initiative, Digital Polarization: Promoting Online Civic Literacy. Preparing students with the skills to combat digital polarization and fake news is a complex problem. The initiative aims to equip college students with the skills they need for online civic reasoning, and to encourage them to make positive interventions in the online information environments they inhabit.

“What we’ve found is giving students a few simple techniques to verify and investigate the information that comes to them in their daily feeds can make a massive difference,” said Mike Caulfield, ADP’s civic fellow and director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver, who will lead the initiative. “The trick is giving students the right skills—skills for 2018, not 1998.” Caulfield has been recognized for his thinking on these issues, both at national conferences and through Hapgood, his long-running blog on educational technology.

Ten AASCU member institutions have been chosen to develop, pilot and assess an online civic literacy curricula on their campuses: Black Hills State University (S.D.); The City University of New York (CUNY) College of Staten Island (N.Y.); Georgia College (Ga.); Indiana University Kokomo; Metropolitan State University of Denver (Colo.); Millersville University of Pennsylvania; San Jose State University (Calif.); Texas A&M University-Central Texas; University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and Washington State University Vancouver. 

In this initiative, students will track, catalog and analyze fake news, while learning deeper truths about polarization, the economics of the web and the psychology of conspiracy theory. The 2016 national election and the current political climate bring into sharp focus questions about facts, news and information. Online platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have a profound influence on our national discourse, national politics and election processes. Social media is challenging traditional news outlets, calling into question the credibility of traditional reporting and formerly trusted sources of information. Citizens need to find and make sense of the best information available if they are to make the best decisions possible.

Participating campuses will develop, adopt and assess an online civic literacy curricula focused specifically on vetting the information students encounter online. The initiative will incorporate digital polarization and/or civic online information literacy into new and/or existing courses across a variety of disciplines and in co-curricular activities. Such events and offerings might take the form of library orientation events, invited speakers, community panels, professional development trainings, and/or common readings.

“The need for digital fluency has never been more urgent, as our reliance on social media and the internet for news and information only continues to grow. We are confident that this work will help advance student online civic literacy and elevate best practices for teaching digital fluency, while improving our information environments,” said Amanda Antico, executive director of ADP. “The Digital Polarization initiative is a timely solution to a problem that is affecting America’s democratic and civic engagement.”

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The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of more than 400 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development. These are institutions Delivering America’s Promise of Opportunities for All.