Helping Your Students Identify Factual Sources

AOI | Learning Innovations
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Weekly Tip: Helping Your Students Identify Factual Sources

Finding reliable information on the internet can be a daunting task for students. As you help them navigate a vast amount of information, it can be difficult to decipher fact from fiction. Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at WSU Vancouver, recently published a guide to help students fact-check the virtual content they find. We invite you to check out Mike’s book, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.

This guide will show you how to use date filters to find the source of viral content, how to assess the reputation of a scientific journal in less than five seconds, and how to see if a tweet is really from the famous person you think it is or from an impostor. It’ll show you how to find pages that have been deleted, figure out who paid for the website you’re looking at, and whether the weather portrayed in that viral video actual matches the weather in that location on that day. It’ll show you how to check a Wikipedia page for recent vandalism and how to search the text of almost any printed book to verify a quote. It’ll teach you to parse URLs and scan search result blurbs so that you are more likely to get to the right result on the first click. And it’ll show you how to avoid baking confirmation bias into your search terms.

—Mike Caufield, 1-Why This Book?

How do I help my students fact-check more efficiently?

Throughout the guide, there are several steps that Caulfield refers to as “moves” to help lead readers through the process of fact-checking. Steps such as: check for previous work, go upstream to the source, read laterally, and circle back. These steps help the researcher view their sources critically and hunt for the evidence behind any claims that a source makes, thereby substantiating its validity.

Furthermore, you could help your students sharpen their fact-checking skills by assigning mini research activities. You could have your students:

  1. Validate a political Tweet.
  2. Evaluate a Wikipedia article by tracing it back to its original sources.
  3. Conduct a class discussion about what constitutes a reliable source in today’s world.

Validating sources in the age of social media is a challenge. Instead of taking a news article at face value, students must sift through layers of information to reveal the truth. The skills gained by students through this book can help them now and throughout their lives.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.