Everyone should read this post on bias

Not this post on bias — this post on bias.

I’m having one of those days (actually two of those days in a row now) where everything I read is interesting and I want to talk about it more. So much so that I’m a little overwhelmed and end up not talking about anything. It takes something like this post from New Kid on the Hallway that seems to reach into my brain and pull out something that’s been bugging me and talk about it just like I wanted someone to talk about it.

This is my favorite part:

When you say that a historical author has a “bias,” you’re saying they incline a certain way. They lean in a certain direction. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

The thing is, you inevitably declare that the author is “biased” as if this is all you have to say on the subject – as if discovering “bias” is some form of analysis.

I hate to tell you this, but it’s really not.

A billion times yes. It’s not. And the post rocks more because she goes on to talk about why it’s not as well as what the appropriate kind of analysis would look like.

The idea that the “checklist” approach to teaching website evaluation doesn’t work isn’t an original thought. But this issue in particular is the reason why checklists for website evaluation keep me up at night. This is why throwing in a “please tell my students about evaluating websites” as one part of a one-shot library session (or really, even as the only part of a one-shot library session) doesn’t work for me. Or why “let’s teach everything students need to know about evaluating information in one generic tutorial or handout” doesn’t work for me. Or really, why the very idea of teaching evaluation of resources as a separate skill distinct from the other thinking and learning students do – no matter how contextual and complex the methods used are — will never work for me.

Evaluating is near the top of Bloom’s taxonomy for a reason – this is hard stuff. This is the big leagues where cognition and learning are concerned. And if we try to teach it like it’s easy – like discovering something like bias (or any of the other things on the checklist) is the end of the story, no more thinking required, we’re teaching the wrong lesson. That kind of evaluation might help people filter out the truly bad stuff – but I think that most students today know full well that there is truly bad stuff out there and they already know how to identify it. Because identifying the truly bad stuff is really not that hard.

But those skills don’t help them at all when it comes to distinguishing the good from the great, or when they’re faced with a bevy of plausible interpretations. And if those skills become their evaluation habits – those habits will hurt them when they need to do real evaluation to solve really complex problems.