Hannah Rainey, Shaun Bennett, Lara Fountaine
Information Science, Communication
Material Type:
Homework/Assignment, Lesson Plan, Syllabus
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
  • Cyber Citizenship
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    Education Standards



    In a world of 24-hour news cycles, social media, and deep fakes it is difficult to discern what is true, what is opinion, and what is out-right false. The ability and habit of fact-checking information is increasingly important in light of recent global health crises and upcoming elections. This course will cover strategies for identifying misleading media, fact-checking news, and engaging in critical discussions about the information that we consume and share. This course is designed to dicussion-based and focused on personal reflection and practice.

    This course was created for the Honors Program at NC State University

    Overview & Syllabus


    This course engages students in the many ways that information is created, shared, and can be interpreted. Topics will include infographics, cyber security, news, news bots, cookies and online tracking, digital privacy, and more.


    Learning Outcomes

    • Students will critically analyze media and news content and sources

    • Students will utilize tools and methods to fact check online information 

    • Students will evaluate how data is collected, analyzed, and represented to tell a story. 

    • Students will consider the impacts of online tracking of personal data 

    • Students will discuss the risks and ethics of engaging on social media

    • Students will utilize library resources for research and fact-checking



    This course consists of 8 sessions that challenge students to critically and thoughtfully engage with mediated information. Students will be introduced to concepts that will help them decode and interpret the validity of news and other information sources. Through discussion and individual and/or group activities, course sessions will invite students to take an active role in building a foundation of best practices that can serve as a model for their peers and others. 


    Resources and Expenses

    There are no textbooks or costs associated with this course. All readings and other required media will be provided electronically.

    Topic 1: Introduction. What is media? What is bias?


    The constant stream of news and other media is often overwhelming and can feel like background noise. With the constant bombardment of catchy headlines and click bait, we may not always think about the sources of the information that we consume and share. In class we will discuss some of the following questions: Where do you get your news and other media? How much news media do you feel like you encounter every day? Do you believe everything you read? Do you share media with friends and family? 

    In this first class, we will review the course syllabus, assignments and expectations. We will also begin to examine the two major themes of the course - media and bias. 


    Suggested Discussion and Activities

    • Introductions (instructors & students)
    • Pre-assessment survey
    • What is media?
      • Students offer ideas on Padlet
      • Class discussion about definitions
    • What is bias?
      • Discuss confirmation bias

    Media Mindfulness Log assignment


    • Gain awareness of personal media habits

    • Reflect on where and how you encounter media  


    1. Make a copy of this template in Google Sheets 

    2. Save it with a new name following this format : Lastname_MML

    3. Share the Google Sheets with the instructors

    4. Update your spreadsheet each week with at least 3 entries  

    Topic 2: Fake News


    The phrase “fake news” comes up a lot these days. But what makes news or any other media “fake” or “true?” In this class we will discuss ways to investigate articles to verify or debunk the information presented and go through some fun fact-checking activities. We will also discuss how bias impacts news.

    Learning Objectives

    • Understand the history and concept of “fake news”
    • Discuss the ways people find and receive news
    • Develop strategies for identifying misinformation

    Suggested Readings


    Suggested Discussions and Activities

    • Discussion
      • Small group discussions (15 min)
      • 3 breakout rooms - identify someone to take notes and be the spokesperson. Summarize discussion in 1-2 minutes
        • Question 1: What is the difference between opinion and bias? (5 min)
          • Is bias and opinion necessary for understanding? For persuasion?
          • How does emotion and logic play into all of this?
          • Are objectivity and bias mutually exclusive? Is it possible to be full one or the other?
      • Large group share (5 min)
        • Question 2: Who is responsible for stopping the spread of misinformation? (5 min)
          • How can we be sure that fact checkers themselves are making the right decisions?
          • Are bots the answer to combating the spread of fake news?
      • Large group share (5 min)
    • Review Fake News Timeline
    • Fake News Game 

    Topic 3: Visual Dis/Information


    Visual information–images, video, diagrams, and data visualization– are powerful tools for illustrating ideas, proving a point, and quickly imparting the meaning of a complex concept. Like all other media, images and data visualizations are created and edited by humans. In class, we will view examples of misleading data visualizations and discuss best practices for creating and presenting visual information in a way that does not mislead.

    Learning Objectives

    • Critically view and discuss the impacts of photographs and images on new media.
    • Understand how data and statistics can tell a story. 
    • View data visualizations critically and analyze how the information is presented.  
    • Identify common components of infographics and utilize best practices for design. 

    Suggested Readings

    • Hameleers, M., Powell, T. E., Van Der Meer, Toni G.L.A, & Bos, L. (2020). A picture paints a thousand lies? the effects and mechanisms of multimodal disinformation and rebuttals disseminated via social media. Political Communication, 37(2), 281-301. doi:10.1080/10584609.2019.1674979
    • Brennen, J. S., Simon, F. M., & Nielsen, R. K. (2021). Beyond (Mis)Representation: Visuals in COVID-19 Misinformation. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 26(1), 277–299.
    • 3. On Rational, Scientific, Objective Viewpoints from Mythical, Imaginary, Impossible Standpoints. (2020). In Data Feminism. Open Access link
    • TEDTalk by David McCandless (Video) - The Beauty of Data Visualization
    • TEDTalk by Mona Chalabi (Video) - 3 Ways to Spot a Bad Statistics


    Suggested Discussion and Activities

    • Multimodal Disinformation - share an example from the readings or find something more current
    • Data Discussion
      • Data
        • What is data?
        • How can data be biased?
          • Depending on answers, ask for examples from students.
          • Accidental bias (surveyed only people they know), purposeful bias (small survey size, survey hosted on a politically aligned site), bias prevention (double-blind surveys)
      • Data representation
        • Small groups look at different visualizations made from the same data. Example from NYT.
    • Asynchronous module on Data Visualization created by Natalia Lopez.
      • Link to editable Google Form (make a copy to share with your students)

    Topic 4: Online Security and Privacy


    The ways by which particular articles, news, and ads show up online are often hidden. Sometimes it feels like your phone might be listening in on conversations, or that ads follow you from site to site. In this class, we will uncover and discuss how every action online is captured, monitored, and monetized to improve services and sell products. We will also go over practical, every day tips for privacy and security online. 

    Learning Objectives

    • Gain broad understanding about the issues of online privacy and security
    • Develop deep understanding about a specific issue related to online privacy and security
    • Create an infographic to help communicate understanding to other students.

    Suggested Readings



    Students present infographics to the class.

    Topic 5: Social Media

    This is how we structured the debate, but you will want to adapt depending on the class size and time.

    • All groups prepare (15 minutes)
    • Question 1:
      • Group 1 (Yes) present the case (5 minutes)
      • Group 2 (No) present the case (5 minutes)
    • Groups discuss (3 minutes)
      • Group 1 rebuttal (3 minutes)
      • Group 2 rebuttal (3 minutes)

    --2 minute break --

    • Question 2:
      • Group 3 (Yes) present your case (5 minutes)
      • Group 4 (No) present your case (5 minutes)
    • Groups discuss (3 minutes)
      • Group 1 rebuttal (3 minutes)
      • Group 2 rebuttal (3 minutes)
    • Large Group discusssion/wrap up (5 min)



    Social Media platforms have become a primary aggregate and source of news and other information.  In class, we will discuss and critically examine the ways in which Social Media shapes how information is shared and received. We will have a structured debate about whether or not social media companies should be responsible for regulating the spread of misinformation. 

    Learning Objectives

    • Gain awareness of the development and history of social media
    • Understand the business model of social media
    • Understand social media’s role in sharing and consuming information/misinformation
    • Analyze and discuss the value of social media on personal, community, national, and global levels
    • Analyze and discuss the risks of social media on personal, community, national, and global levels

    Suggested Readings:

    • Valenzuela, S., Halpern, D., Katz, J., & Miranda, J. (2019). The paradox of participation versus misinformation: Social media, political engagement, and the spread of misinformation. Digital Journalism, 7(6), 802-823. doi:10.1080/21670811.2019.1623701
    • Boukes, M. (2019). Social network sites and acquiring current affairs knowledge: The impact of Twitter and Facebook usage on learning about news. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 16(1), 36-51. doi:10.1080/19331681.2019.1572568
    • Smyth, S. M. (2012). The new social media paradox: A symbol of self-determination or a boon for big brother? International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 6(1), 924. Link
    • What obligation do social media platforms have to the greater good? (Video) Ted Talk by Eli Pariser


    Suggested Discussion and Activities

    • Timeline of Social Media History
      • Discussion
        • Looking at the timeline, is there anything that is surprising to you about the (brief) history of social media?
        • What year did you start using social media?
        • What was the first form of social media you started using?
        • When you were younger, were there any restrictions on social media use?
        • Currently, do you impose any restrictions on your own social media use? Why or why not?
      • Debate: (30 minutes)
        • Form groups to debate the pro/con of each question
        • Topics/Questions:
          • Round 1: Should social media companies be responsible for regulating fake news and misinformation?
          • Round 2: Should social media companies be allowed to collect so much personal data?

    Topic 7: Bias in Information Systems


    The human influence on the infrastructure and pathways through which information travels online is often hidden. However, humans (and all of their biases) build the algorithms and artificial intelligence that drive and shape the way information is shared, discovered, and retrieved. For our penultimate class, we will examine and discuss how the systems used to organize and mechanically disseminate information can have unintended bias built in. We will look at examples from libraries and also review strategies and skills for accessing library resources and conducting research.

    Learning Objectives

    • Identify and discuss bias in information systems
    • Understand how to locate research through the Libraries

    Suggested Readings

    Suggested Discussion and Activities

    • Bias in Library Systems
      • Dewey Decimal System
        • Religion section
      • LGBT subject placement
    • Discussion
      • Does neutrality and objectivity wihtin technology (AI) exist?
      • How can it be achieved?
      • What can be done?

    Final Project: Track the Claim!

    Final Project - Track the Claim 


    Many news articles and other media items make claims about historical events, official reports, and scholarly research. Phrases such as “a new study shows” and “according to researchers” leads readers to believe that the claim is true as presented. For this final project, be a critical detective and track a claim to its source. 


    • Demonstrate an ability to research a claim

    • Synthesize research in an analysis 

    • Demonstrate communication skills through a multimedia presentation  


    Find a recent news article or other media item that makes a claim. Through links, footnotes, and additional searching, trace the claim to the original (or near-original) source. Keep track of all articles and sources that you find related to that claim. Using Library databases and Google Scholar, look for scholarly research articles that support, refute, or relate to the claim. In total, collect 7 or more sources. 3 of the sources must be peer-reviewed scholarly research. Write a critical analysis of the claim using 7 or more sources. Present the claim and your analysis in a 5 minute multimedia presentation. 


    Works Cited Draft 

    Submit a draft of your Works Cited page, or bibliography. Use APA citation guidelines. If there is another citation style that you’d prefer to use based on your major, please indicate that at the top of your Works Cited.  


    Multimedia Presentation (5 minutes) 

    Create a multimedia presentation that walks the class through your detective’s journey to track the source of the claim. The presentation should include at least 2 different multimedia elements, such as images, audio, video, etc., and can be delivered in any format (PowerPoint, video, website). You have the option to present this live or recorded.   


    Written analysis (3 page minimum, 6 page maximum) 

    Present the claim and associated articles in a written analysis. The analysis needs to be 3-6 pages plus a bibliography. Your analysis should consider how accurately the claim is represented in your sources and incorporate the concepts covered in class. All of the sources in the bibliography should be integrated and correctly cited within the analysis. Use APA citation guidelines, unless you make a case for another citation style. 


    Grading Rubric


    4 points

    3 points

    2 points

    1 points

    0 points


    The paper focuses on a single claim/topic that is relevant and interesting. The claim is clearly presented in the introduction. 

    The paper focuses on a single claim/topic that is relevant and clearly stated. 

    The paper presents a claim/topic that is interesting, but not clearly stated. 

    The paper does not focus on a single claim, but presents multiple claims and is unfocused. 

    No submission


    Demonstrated understanding of concepts learned in the course. Concepts are integrated with the writer’s own insights. The paper concludes with remarks that show analysis and synthesis of ideas.

    Demonstrates understanding of the concepts learned in the course. Concepts are present and partially integrated with the writer’s own insights. 

    Demonstrates partial understanding of the concepts learned in the course. 

    The paper does not demonstrate that the author has fully understood and applied concepts learned in the course.

    No submission


    Ties together information from all sources. Paper flows from one issue to the next without the need for headings. Author's writing demonstrates an understanding of the relationship among material obtained from all sources.

    For the most part, ties together information from all sources. Paper flows with only some disjointedness. Author's writing demonstrates an understanding of the relationship among material obtained from all sources.

    Sometimes ties together information from all sources. Paper does not flow - disjointedness is apparent. Author's writing does not demonstrate an understanding of the relationship among material obtained from all sources.

    Does not tie together information. Paper does not flow and appears to be created from disparate issues. Headings are necessary to link concepts. Writing does not demonstrate understanding any relationships

    No submission

    Spelling and Grammar

    No spelling &/or grammar mistakes.

    Minimal spelling &/or grammar mistakes.

    Noticeable spelling & grammar mistakes.

    Unacceptable number of spelling and/or grammar mistakes.

    No submission


    7 or more sources related to the same claim are all present and cited in the paper. 3 of the 7 are peer-reviewed research articles. 

    5-7 sources related to the same claim. Includes 2 peer-reviewed research articles. 

    Fewer than 5 sources. Includes 1 peer-reviewed research article. 

    Fewer than 5 sources. No scholarly research articles. 

    No submission


    Cites all sources listed in bibliography. APA citation style is used in both text and bibliography.

    Cites most sources. APA citation style is used in both text and bibliography.

    Cites some sources. Citation style is either inconsistent or incorrect.

    Does not cite sources. 

    No submission


    The presentation utilizes more than two multimedia elements (ie audio, video, images) that are relevant to the topic.  

    The presentation utilizes two multimedia elements that are relevant to the topic.

    The presentation utilizes one multimedia element that is relevant to the topic. 

    The presentation utilizes one or more multimedia elements that are not relevant to the topic. 

    No submission

    Visual presentation

    The visual elements of the presentation are appropriate, cohesive, and appealing. The font and colors are legible. All visual elements support and enrich the analysis.

    The visual elements of the presentation are appropriate and appealing. Font and colors are legible. 

    Font and colors are legible. The visual elements are appealing. 

    Inappropriate use of visual elements. Font and colors distract from the content. 

    No submission

    Oral presentation

    The oral presentation is practiced and delivered clearly and confidently with minimal use of notes and pauses. 

    The oral presentation is delivered clearly and confidently with minimal use of notes and pauses. 

    The oral presentation is delivered with the use of notes and pauses. 

    The oral presentation is unpracticed and lacks cohesion. 

    No submission