Tackling misinformation with podcasts

Flush with the spirit of techno-optimism, the internet promised liberation by eliminating barriers to information and enabling its spread instantaneously and globally. Events in recent memory, however, make it clear that misinformation spreads just as rapidly, generating profound social repercussions. Bolstered by mid-term elections, fellowship applicants felt a strong personal connection to the topic. In response, three library staff mentors led fellows on a journey in search of credibility in this information wilderness. To better understand the current moment, fellows interviewed misinformation experts and produced podcasts featuring their conversations, resulting in We the Lonely and Slap Hoax.  

Fellows met weekly in a seminar course format and discussed a series of readings related to the topic. Fellows selected a related current event each week and socially annotated it with the open-source software Hypothis.is, providing opportunities to extend their learning outside of the library classroom. Students used the software to annotate news articles, highlight relevant sections, ask questions, or otherwise draw connections to the readings. This asynchronous annotation created a foundation on which mentors and fellows could develop in-person dialogue at each meeting, increasing student engagement with scholarship on misinformation and allowing them to contribute their own voices to a wider conversation. 

Several of the fellows had previous podcasting experience while others learned how to use Audacity, an open-source audio software. Fellows learned how to identify the copyright status of media and make ethical choices about when and how to use audio materials found online for educational projects. 

The choice to use podcasting as a teaching object was intentional. Mentors Melissa Mallon and Andy Wesolek have written extensively on the librarian’s role in creating diverse and open learning environments using fellowships and non-traditional engagement opportunities. By giving students something (podcasts) both personally familiar and academically foreign, fellows engaged in peer-to-peer learning outside the classroom and their work took on a transdisciplinary approach.  

“While I typically and almost exclusively work with graduate students, the Buchanan fellowships afford an invaluable opportunity to connect with the undergraduate immersion experience and to leverage my own research and writing in digital scholarship and information literacy,” Divinity Library Director Bobby Smiley said about his experience as mentor. 

This fellowship is one of a series exploring the impact of social media on society. Previous Buchanan fellowships in this series focused on information ethics, privacy, surveillance, and intellectual freedom. Fellows produced podcasts as their final projects. By encouraging fellows from a wide variety of academic disciplines, this fellowship affords the opportunity to explore phenomena from ontologically distinct perspectives and learning from one another in the process. 

You can learn more about this fellows initiative and listen to these podcast episodes here at Vanderbilt Libraries Buchanan Fellows Media & Society  research guide which documents the fellowship series on media and society focus of the Buchanan Library Fellows.