Author Q&A: Developing Digital Detectives

by | Feb 17, 2022

An interview with Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins authors of Developing Digital Detectives

What was your goal in writing Developing Digital Detectives?

We want to change the world! Really! In the two years or so since Fact vs. Fiction came out, we’ve spent time working with educators around the country to develop news and information literacy instruction and curricula, and we’ve identified gaps in existing resources. We hope Developing Digital Detectives will fill those gaps.

The book explores the relationship between information literacy and social-emotional learning. Can you talk about the connection between these topics?

We live in a time when society expects information to be free. Few of us subscribe to newspapers or other information sources anymore, and we are all experts at bypassing paywalls. In that environment, clicks have become the new currency, which means that to some degree, all information creators (whether a trained journalist or a social media influencer, etc.) have the same goal: for their content to be the story, photo, video, etc. that goes viral. One of the most effective ways to get information consumers to click is to embed emotional triggers in access points to the content. With that in mind, we believe that helping kids develop the habit of thinking about how information makes them feel can lead to important questions about who might want us to feel that way and what they are hoping we’ll do as a result. SEL skills can then help kids develop strategies for managing those emotions before engaging with content (by clicking, liking, sharing, and following). We believe that traditional information literacy efforts fall short because they are missing this important component.

The book features 12 unique cases, for digital detectives of different ages to solve. How do these work, and do you have any favourites you’d like to share?

Our unit plans, or cases, engage learners in the process of solving a mystery by applying “the four lenses” (a protocol described in the book) to online content. These are really the heart and soul of our book. There are several fun ones, but one that we use a lot across all grade spans involves the great toilet paper shortage of 2020! In it learners are asked to figure out whether people in Oregon were calling 911 because they ran out of toilet paper. In addition to the appeal this lesson has for middle schoolers, it’s actually a powerful case study in how emotion drives our behaviour, both in ways that are self-serving and in ways that can feel altruistic. It’s fascinating to watch learners dig into this kind of thinking.

In your view, what does it take to become an effective digital detective?

First, we think digital detectives must be curious! Information evaluation is not a linear (or even lateral) process. It requires dynamic and multidirectional investigations that are driven by clues and authentic inquiries. The best digital detectives are highly curious and are more focused on asking good questions than on finding right answers. Secondly, digital detectives have to be willing to think about how information makes them feel and then analyse how those emotions can be leveraged by bad actors to further an agenda. And finally, digital detectives recognise that our beliefs and understanding of the world evolve as new information becomes available. Changing your mind isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s actually a sign that you’re allowing new information to stretch your thinking!

What’s the difference between misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, and why do such distinctions matter?

Even though these three words are used interchangeably, their differences are important because they come down to motivation. Misinformation refers to false or misleading content that is spread unintentionally by someone who either doesn’t have all the facts yet or by someone who is fooled by false content and shares it with the intent to do good. Disinformation is content that has been intentionally created to deceive. And malinformation is TRUE content that has been manipulated or altered to spread a false or harmful agenda. These distinctions help learners think about the motivations of those who share false content online, which can then help them recognize the tools and tactics that are commonly used to do so.

What are one or two key takeaways that you hope readers will get from the book?

We hope educators feel empowered to begin this work right away. Most educators we talk to recognize that the problem of mis/dis/mal information online is hurting us, not only as a country but also as a species. However, the work often feels very daunting because the information landscape is vast and complex and because these topics can be tough to talk about. We hope educators will come away from our book feeling like they’ve got the tools to get started right away.

Source: Ingram Fall 2021 K-12 Resource

Jennifer LaGarde

Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher and learner, with over 20 years in public education. Her educational passions include leveraging technology to help students develop authentic reading lives and meeting the unique needs of students living in poverty. Jennifer currently lives, works, reads and drinks coffee in Olympia, Washington.

Darren Hudgins

Darren Hudgins is a passionate advocate for creating learning experiences that drive educators and their students to think, do and thrive. He believes in this mission so much that he conceptualised and currently directs Think, Do, Thrive, LLC. He uses his more than 20 years in education, EdTech and coaching to inspire critical thinking, champion active learning, and create opportunities for educational communities to improve.