Reliability vs. Authority: Credibility Assessment of Highschool Students

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Reliability vs. Authority: Credibility Assessment of Highschool Students

  1. 1. 
Paper
presented
at
the
IAMCR
Conference
“Communication
and
Citizenship”,
Braga,
Portugal,
18­22
July
2010

Reliability
vs.
Authority:
Difficulties
Within
Practices
of
Credibility
Assessment
of
Information
by
Highschool
Students
and
Teachers
in
Austria
Axel
Maireder,
University
of
Vienna

The
 Internet,
 social
 media
 in
 particular,
 has
 become
 an
 integral
 part
 of
 the
everyday
life
of
youth.
According
to
a
recent
study
(GfK
2009)
nearly
a
hundred
percent
 of
 the
 13
 to
 17
 year
 old
 Austrians
 use
 social
 media
 applications
 like
Facebook.
 Plentiful
 of
 studies
 researching
 the
 use
 of
 those
 means
 of
communication
have
been
carried
out
in
the
last
years
(Gross
2004;
J.
Schmidt
u.
a.
2009;
Ito
u.
a.
2008;
Wagner
u.
a.
2009).
‚Digital
natives’
(Prensky
2001)
hang
out,
 mess
 around
 and
 geek
 out
 (Ito
 u.
 a.
 2008)
 in
 the
 web,
 which
 provides
communication
 spaces
 that
 fulfil
 functions
 of
 information,
 relationship
 and
identity
management
(J.
Schmidt
2009).
Another
communication
space
central
to
the
life
of
teenagers
is
school,
the
place
the
 society
 ensures
 that
 children
 get
 prepared
 for
 the
 challenges
 and
requirements
 of
 life
within
 this
 society
 (Fend
2006).
This
increasingly
includes
competences
on
the
use
of
information
and
communication
technologies,
which
are
 and
 will
 increasingly
 be
 central
 to
 social
 communication
 now
 and
 in
 the
future.
 One
 of
 those
 is
 the
 competency
 to
 reasonably
 assess
 the
 credibility
 of
information,
which
has
become
a
key
literacy
in
the
knowledge
society.
Research
on
the
credibility
assessment
of
information
by
students
has
been
carried
out
by
a
number
of
scholars
(Franke
&
Sundin
2009;
Rieh
&
Hilligoss
2007;
Wathen
&
Burkell
 2002;
 Lorenzen
 2001;
 Nicholas
 et.
 al.
 2008),
 revealing
 worrisome
knowledge
 and
 competence
 gaps.
 However,
 those
 studies
 have
 primarily
 1
  2. 2. focused
 on
 the
 actual
 assessment
 of
 information
 within
 particular
 settings,
leaving
aside
the
contexts
in
which
these
assessments
are
made.
Our
study
tried
to
close
that
gap.

Research
Focus
Our
 project
 systematically
 asked
 for
 the
 terms,
 forms
 and
 consequences
 of
Internet
use
in
schools
and
for
school‐related
tasks
as
well
as
the
impact
of
the
school
on
Internet
practices
of
teens,
especially
the
development
of
competences
for
 information
 research
 and
information
 processing.
The
initial
 assumption
 of
our
 cultural
 theory
 based
 project
 (Schmidt
 2005,
 Bauer
 2006),
 was
 that
 the
openness
 and
 universality
 of
 the
 Internet
 as
 well
 as
 its
 network
 structure
 are
contradicting
 the
 hierarchical,
 authoritarian
 model
 of
 school
 education,
 its
performance‐orientation
 and
 its
 sequential
 learning
 culture.
 The
 aim
 of
 the
project
 was
 to
 identify
 the
 communicative
 and
 cognitive
 practices
 that
 are
formed
by
students
and
teachers
in
the
context
of
the
Internet
and
school
and
to
evaluate
those
practices
as
challenges
within
the
information
society.

Method
For
 the
 collection
 of
 our
 data
 we
 carried
 out
 narrative
 group
 interviews
(Bohnsack
 2004)
with
 students
 and
 teachers
 in
 thirteen
 different
 classes
 from
ten
different
high
schools
in
six
Austrian
provinces.
The
students
were
aged
13
to
 16.
 Aiming
 for
 high
 heterogeneity,
 we
 selected
 schools
 /
 classes
 that
preferably
 differed
 in
 demographics,
location
 and
type
of
 education:
Schools
in
rural,
 suburban
 and
 urban
 areas,
 with
 high,
 medium
 and
 low
 percentage
 of
immigrants
 and
 classes
 of
 two
 age
 groups
 (13/14
 and
 15/16
 years
 old)
emphasising
on
either
technical,
commercial
or
general
education.
In
each
class
we
 asked
 the
 students
 to
 gather
 in
 groups
 of
 five
 people,
 aiming
 for
 groups
 of
individuals
with
low
frictions.
We
chose
the
two
groups
that
gathered
fastest
in
each
 class,
 assuming
 that
 those
 are
 the
 groups
 in
 which
 the
 individuals
 know
each
other
best.
We
also
tried
to
keep
an
eye
on
the
allocation
of
boys
and
girls
in
 the
 groups.
 As
 most
 of
 the
 groups
 were
 homogeneous
 in
 terms
 of
 gender
 2
  3. 3. anyway,
we
had
one
boy
and
one
girl
group
in
most
of
the
cases.
Altogether,
117
students
 took
 part
 in
 26
 group
 interviews.
 Additionally,
 we
 asked
 teachers
 in
each
school
to
participate
in
group
discussions
separate
from
the
students’
ones.
We
conducted
ten
group
interviews
with
47
teachers
altogether.

The
group
interviews
conducted
were
very
openly
structured,
aiming
for
lively
discussions
 between
 the
 participants
 rather
 than
 responses
 to
 specific
questions.
 Respectively,
 the
 moderation
 was
 low‐key,
 questions
 mostly
unspecific.
 The
 discussions
 lasted
 between
 60
 and
 90
 minutes
 and
 were
recorded
on
tape.
The
qualitative
analysis
of
the
data
was
undertaken
according
to
 the
 strategies
 provided
 by
 Grounded
Theory
(Strauss
u.
a.
 1996;
Glaser
u.
a.
2005;
 Krotz
 2005):
 open
 coding,
 recoding,
 development
 of
 hypothesis,
 testing
and
adapting
hypothesis
in
a
circular
process.


Results
The
analysis
of
our
data
showed
phenomena
within
three
categories:
The
use
of
the
Internet
as
 a
tool
for
and
an
object
of
educational
instruction,
as
a
medium
for
 communication
 between
 students
 about
 school
 and
 as
 a
 tool
 for
 the
accomplishment
 of
 school
 tasks.
 For
this
paper,
 only
the
third
category
will
be
further
addressed.
Austrian
 students
 use
 the
 Internet
 intensively
 for
 work
 on
 school
 tasks
 like
homework,
the
drafting
of
essays
or
the
preparation
of
class
presentations.
The
usage
 of
 the
 Internet
 for
 those
 tasks
 is
 mostly
 neither
 guided
 by
 teachers
 nor
subject
to
any
guidelines
issued
by
teachers
or
school
authorities.
The
use
of
the
Internet
 is
 rather
 implicitly
 taken
 for
 granted
 by
 both
 students
 and
 teachers,
mostly
 without
 addressing
 the
 respective
 practices.
 Most
 of
 the
 time,
 the
Internet
is
the
only
information
source
used
by
the
students.
Books,
magazines,
journals
are
widely
ignored
by
the
students,
even
if
the
teachers
encourage
them
to
make
use
of
printed
media.
Even
if
the
actual
task
is
to
read
a
book
to
write
a
summary
or
to
interpret
it,
students
prefer
to
find
related
secondary
and
tertiary
literature
 on
 the
 Internet
 and
 use
 them
 as
 basis
 for
 their
 work
 rather
 than
 to
actually
read
the
book
itself.
 3
  4. 4. Research
 for
 information
 for
 school
 tasks
 starts
 almost
 always
 at
 one
 of
 two
websites.
 One
 is
 Google,
 which
is
researched
 using
 mostly
one
simple
keyword
without
combinations
with
additional
words.
Google’s
results
are
scanned
very
quickly
according
to
the
list
provided
and
Links
that
are
assumed
to
be
relevant
are
 clicked.
 In
 this
 process
 the
 students
 assess
 Google’s
 ranking
 as
 a
 very
meaningful
 indicator
 of
 the
 respective
 Websites’
 relevance
 and
 quality.
 Thus,
they
 hardly
 ever
 scan
 more
 than
 the
 first
 page
 of
 results
 and
 they
 go
 back
 to
Google
 every
 time
 after
 they
 have
 scanned
 a
 website
 it
 had
 linked
 to.
 If
 the
results
of
the
first
query
are
somewhat
reasonable,
only
one
is
undertaken.
The
choice
 of
 Google
 as
 the
 initial
as
well
 as
 central
reference
point
in
information
research
 practices
 is
 not
 surprising.
 Our
 findings
 support
other
 studies
 in
 that
point
(Rieh
&
Hilligoss
2008;
Lorenzen
2001;
for
Austria
Mager
2009).
The
 second
 website
 students
 use
 as
 their
 starting
 and
 reference
 point
 for
research
 is
 Wikipedia.
 It’s
 importance
 for
 students’
 information
 gathering
practices
can
hardly
be
underestimated.
The
more
so
as
the
results
showing
up
in
 Google
 queries
 often
 list
 articles
 from
 Wikipedia
 at
 a
 high
 position.
 To
 both
Websites,
 Google
 and
 Wikipedia,
students
 assign
very
 high
levels
of
 credibility.
They
 are
 credible
 both
 on
 a
 conceptional
 and
 an
 operative
 level.
 The
 former
refers
to
the
assessment
of
truthfulness
based
on
certain
concepts,
the
latter
“to
the
extent
to
which
users
think
that
the
information
is
useful,
good,
current,
and
accurate.“
(ibid,
146)
On
 a
 conceptional
 level,
 the
 students
 put
 trust
 into
 a
 quite
 vague
 concept
 of

‘Wisdom
of
the
Crowds’
(Surowiecki
2005),
assessing
information
more
credible
the
 more
 people
 were
 involved
 in
 producing
 and
 evaluating
 it
 or
 the
 more
sources
state
the
same
particular
information.
The
former
refers
to
Wikipedia’s
concept
of
the
collaboration
of
a
multitude
of
authors
and
the
respective
check‐and‐recheck
 mechanisms,
 the
 latter
 to
 Google
 under
 the
 students’
 (wrong)
assumption
that
it
ranks
a
page
higher
the
more
people
consult
it.

These
 assumptions
 starkly
 conflict
 with
 the
 teachers’
 assessments
 of
 these
applications.
 They
 are
 very
 sceptical
 towards
 Google
 and
 in
 particular
Wikipedia.
 From
 their
 perspective,
Wikipedia’s
quality
is
 doubtful,
 because
 the
 4
  5. 5. content
 can
 be
 edited
 by
 everyone,
 and
 there
 is
 no
 control
 on
 who
 is
 writing.
Google
is
assessed
likewise.

As
it’s
ranking
is
rather
based
on
quantitative
than
qualitative
 criteria,
 sources
 get
 more
 credit
 the
 more
 other
 pages
 link
 to
 it,
ignoring
 the
 quality
 of
 the
 information
 provided.
 While
 the
 youth
 values
 the
openness
of
information
systems
as
well
as
the
quantitative
measurements
they
are
 based
 on
 as
 a
 guarantee
 for
 the
 quality
 of
 information,
 the
 adults
 are
sceptical
for
the
same
considerations.
This
corresponds
to
the
change
from
an
authorative
credibility
to
a
credibility
by
reliability,
 which
 was
 described
 by
 Lankes
 (2007).
 The
 credibility
 of
information,
traditionally
assessed
due
to
the
rather
stable
authority
of
a
certain
source
is
increasingly
a
question
of
credibility
conversations,
a
consideration
on
the
basis
of
a
multitude
of
sources.
Correspondingly,
 the
 students
 interviewed
 in
our
 study
 report
 that
 they
 relate
information
 from
 different
 sources
 (from
 the
 Google
 results)
 to
 assess
 the
quality
 of
 a
 certain
 information
 on
 a
 regular
 bases.
 The
 problem
 is,
 that
 the
students
 often
 do
 not
 sufficiently
understand
the
concepts
and
 backgrounds
of
the
 sources
 and
 information
 systems
 they
get
their
information
from,
 resulting
in
misinterpretations.
The
critical
attitude
towards
Google
and
Wikipedia
of
the
teachers
 can
 neither
 be
 understood
nor
 agreed
 upon
 out
of
two
reasons:
First,
the
 teachers
 critique
 conflicts
 with
 their
 practices.
 Despite
 their
 critique,
 they
use
 both
 Google
 and
 Wikipedia
 on
 a
 regular
 basis
 for
 both
 private
 and
 school
purposes.
The
students
notice
that
sharp
contrast
between
theory
and
practice.
Second,
 students
 and
 teachers
 talk
at
cross
purposes
because
of
 their
different
interpretations
of
the
same
basic
assumptions.

On
the
operative
level
‐
the
usefulness
of
information
‐
the
views
of
students
and
teachers
 accord:
 Sources
 that
 proved
 their
 value,
 information
 that
 proved
relevant,
reasonable,
coherent,
applicable
for
the
task
it
was
researched
for
are
considered
 credible.
 Accordingly,
 both
 Google
 and
 Wikipedia
 are
 sources
 or
information
 systems
 respectively,
 teachers
 and
 students
 trust
 on
 an
 operative
level,
resulting
in
an
extensive
use.
 5
  6. 6. Unfortunately,
and
 that
 turns
out
to
 be
a
major
 problem,
 teachers
often
do
not
evaluate
 the
 quality
 of
 information
 when
 grading
 student’s
 assignments.
 They
may
evaluate
the
quality
of
the
presentation
or
the
language
used,
but
rarely
the
content
‐
the
actual
data
and
facts
presented
within
a
paper
or
oral
presentation.
There
are
two
major
reasons
for
that:
One
is
the
workload
associated
with
fact
checking
 and
 the
 other
 is
 their
 uncertainness
 related
 to
 information
 not
explicitly
part
of
the
curriculum.
However,
as
grading
is
the
major
feedback
students
need
to
get
aware
of
what
is
good
and
what
is
bad
within
their
work,
they
are
not
getting
aware
of
inaccurate
or
 even
 wrong
 information
 within
 their
 papers
 or
 –
 putting
 it
 the
 other
 way
around
‐
accordingly,
little
by
little,
‘learn’
that
the
quality
of
information
is
less
relevant
 than
 the
 form
 it
 is
 presented
 in.
 Concurrently,
 they
 turn
 only
 sparse
attention
to
the
accuracy
of
the
information
they
process,
putting
little
effort
into
information
research.
Respectively
they
adjust
their
focus
to
the
features
of
the
work
 the
 teachers
 evaluate,
 putting
 a
 lot
 of
 effort
 into
 the
 right
 composition,
style
and
design
of
their
papers
and
oral
presentations.

The
 practices
 the
 students
 mostly
 show
 when
 working
 on
 papers
 based
 on
information
 from
 the
 Internet
 range
 are
 simple
 copy‐and‐paste
 of
 website
content
into
their
drafts
and
some
minor
adjusting
of
language
style
and
design.
They
 rarely
 read
 the
 information
 they
 process
 intensively
 and
 writing
 text
mostly
based
on
their
own
reasoning
is
a
very
seldom
practice.
Again,
however,
the
choice
for
a
certain
procedure
is
linked
to
the
assumption
of
how
the
work
will
be
evaluated
by
the
teacher,
based
on
prior
experiences.

Conclusion
The
 results
 of
 our
 project
 provide
 new
 and
 detailed
 insights
 into
 the
 changing
nature
of
credibility
assessment
from
an
authorative
credibility
to
credibility
by
reliability.
 Even
if
 the
results
 can’t
be
generalized
as
the
culture
of
schooling
is
different
in
other
countries,
the
results
from
Austria
can
make
researchers
 and
practitioners
 aware
 that
 certain
 problems
 in
 making
 today’s
 youth
 digitally
literate
may
also
lie
in
problematic
processes
of
interaction
among
teachers
and
students.
 6
  7. 7. Acknowledgements
The
 research
 presented
 in
 this
 paper
 was
 part
 of
 a
 project
 funded
 by
 the
Austrian
 Ministry
 of
 Education.
 The
 research
 was
 conducted
 in
 collaboration
with
with
Manuel
Nagl
(researcher)
and
Thomas
A.
Bauer
(supervisor).

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D.,
Rowlands,
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