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College Preparation Program: IN FOCUS Seminar

Fake News! Misinformation and Public Opinion

Fake news. Misinformation. Propaganda. “Post-truth.” We live in a climate of rising distrust, polarity of opinion, and intolerance for oppositional views. The vast array of media content available today can increase exposure to diverse perspectives, yet customization and choice can result in the ability to follow predominantly like-minded content while dismissing other information as “fake” and/or produced by “biased sources.” But what is fake news or a biased source? How do we identify and guard ourselves against either? This seminar explores source credibility and trustworthiness when it comes to media content, with a focus on how to define, determine, and protect oneself against “fake news.”


Not only have traditional, mainstream news organizations expanded their digital presence from Facebook and Twitter to Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube, the number of digital spaces, apps, and platforms used on a regular basis to access information has grown, with aggregators such as Flipboard, Feedly, and Google News potential resources, as are “digestible” and fun sites and apps like theSkimm or Buzzfeed. This seminar examines news acquisition and knowledge sharing practices across various media platforms on micro and macro levels. In addition to exploring how different media organizations and digital media platforms explicitly and implicitly shape the creation and presentation of news content, students will be asked to analyze how they personally decide on what is a “biased” source, as well as the role their own bias plays in how they read news and accept information from different type of sources.

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  • Dates: July 23–Aug 3, 2018
  • Instructor: Jolie C. Matthews, Assistant Professor, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University 
  • Enrollment Capacity: 15


Before students can fully unpack “fake news,” they first need an understanding of what constitutes “news,” for underlying assumptions and attitudes about this can vary widely. From reading articles on how previous research has defined “news” to in-class exercises where they interview themselves and their peers and discuss their personal definitions, students will create a class rubric for how to score “credible information,” which will then be used as the course transitions into how to identify and guard against “fake news.”

Through a combination of individual and group exercises, students will learn about and directly apply tips and practices for spotting fake news, such as checking the source of an article (author, site history and ownership, timeline of information, etc.) to multiple corroboration tactics. Students will also focus on self-reflection, even as they build skills, in terms of how, why, and when they tend to accept information at face value, how often do they check the origin or trustworthiness of a source, and how they can do a better job of doing so in their day-to-day life. They will be asked why and if it matters how accurate a comment or post on social media is, and whether meaningful dialogue (or genuine harmfulness) can occur in these spaces. They will be asked to write their own news articles as well as “re-write” articles that already exist to see the effects of perspective in shaping how information is presented, and they will personally test the importance of being able to identify and protect against misinformation by engaging in a project where they will implement and spread “fake news.”


At the end of this seminar, students:

  • Will learn to define, argue, and reflect on what constitutes “news” by organizations, researchers, and most importantly themselves and their peers
  • Be aware of the role of bias in how “news” is written but also read. Bias is a bilateral rather than unilateral issue, and students must recognize their own bias along with the bias that exists in others
  • Have an awareness of how to look for and truly understand who/what is the source behind the content they see
  • Understand how and why “fake news” is disseminated (and accepted), and how to determine the “trustworthiness” of sources through skill-building exercises
  • Consider the benefits and challenges of news aggregators and feeds versus individual websites or organizations for acquiring “news”


This seminar is designed for college-bound high school students who are interested in:

  • Media institutions and media culture, journalism practices
  • Polarity in the public sphere and the role of “fake news” in increasing that polarity
  • News production and consumption habits
  • Reflection on personal media habits and the messages encountered in daily life
  • Learning how to collect and analyze social media data for research purposes

A Typical Classroom Session

Most class sessions will be half days, but some days will be longer due to field trips, guest lectures, or other activities beyond the normal schedule.


Lecture and discussion of readings


News/media skill building exercises 



11:45am–12:45 pm:

Fake news case study or news/fake news rubric activity


Resources and Materials

Some readings will be distributed (or links provided) at the start of the course. Students will additionally gain experience using different online databases and tools to search for and gather content, considering the pros and cons of various platforms for information access and credibility. Film and television clips along with other multimedia sources will also be part of this seminar.