Monday Motivator: Use Information Ethically

This past week, I’ve been working with a colleague on a presentation for faculty on information literacy. There are five basic standards around which we judge whether a student is information literate. The fifth is this: The student uses information ethically and legally.

When most instructors read this standard, their first thought is plagiarism: Students shouldn’t plagiarize. And the standard certainly encompasses this. We should never claim others’ work as our own.

But as I read the posts I see on social media this election year, I think that plagiarism is just one concern when using information ethically. We should also be consistent in doing the following:

  • Ensuring that information we find is accurate. I’m amazed at the number of things posted on social media that one simple Google search can show is just plain-out wrong.
  • Choosing not to use information that is heavily biased. We have a responsibility to be even-handed when using information. If there are other opinions out there, we don’t have to agree with them, but we need to acknowledge them.
  • Not allowing conclusions drawn from statistics to go unchecked. I have often seen two totally different interpretations drawn from the same statistics. To not acknowledge that is unfair.
  • Not participating, even passively, in attacks based on someone’s gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. One of the hallmarks of mature discourse is to attack ideas, not people.

I have to admit, as someone whose job is to help students use information wisely, it is often discouraging to see what passes for discourse in society: yelling over each other, using biased statistics, omitting facts to make a point. It is easier to find negative examples than positive ones. But that does not mean that we don’t have an obligation to be better than what we see.

Because one of my daddy’s favorite sayings, “Just because everyone else jumped off a mountain doesn’t mean you have to,” applies to public discourse as well.

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