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Critical evaluation of online sources has become a necessary skill in everyday life. With the prevalence of fake news, pseudoscience, and deep fake videos, how can a person determine if a source is legitimate? While in some cases it’s fairly obvious when a source is suspect, at other times determining a source’s credibility isn’t so straightforward.

Recent research indicates that both university professors and college students have difficulty recognizing misleading online sources that at first glance look reputable. The close reading skills that are key to much of academic work differ from the online evaluation strategies needed when quickly determining whether a source is trustworthy enough to be worth a closer look. "Lateral reading," a common practice of fact checkers, is one method of quickly evaluating online source credibility. Lateral reading involves spending little time on the website itself and more time reading what others say about the source or related issue. In this asynchronous online tutorial, students learn about and practice evaluating online sources through lateral reading. Students are introduced to lateral reading and, more specifically, to the practices of “click restraint” (pausing and scanning a search results page before deciding what to click on) and “SIFT” (which reflects various steps of lateral reading: Stop, Investigate the source, Find trusted coverage, Trace information back to the original source).

The tutorial is scaffolded, with students drawing and building on prior knowledge. First, students complete a pre-activity evaluation exercise. Then they are introduced to lateral reading and observe how others apply lateral reading to source evaluation. Finally, students apply their new knowledge to evaluating a web source, receive immediate feedback on their evaluation, and then reflect on their overall learning experience.

The tutorial is informed by the work of Mike Caulfield and of the Stanford History Education Group.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.