Skip to content

Faculty Perspectives on Mis/Disinformation

July 18, 2022

Shortly after I wrote in a previous post about my work with the Pitt Disinformation Lab, I read a related article: Faculty Perspectives on Mis- and Disinformation across Disciplines by Dr. Laura Saunders. The article discusses her survey of higher education faculty to discover their understanding of mis/disinformation in their disciplines and how they address it in their classes.

Saunders’ survey was answered by 86 respondents in a variety of disciplines, and she conducted follow-up interviews with only 6 of the respondents, so she cautions that it’s a small sample size. Not surprisingly, over 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am concerned about the impact of mis/disinformation on social media” and similar responses were received to a question about the news media. However, when respondents were asked whether there was concern about these issues in their fields, the answers varied widely, as illustrated by this figure from the article:


I am concerned about the impact of mis/disinformation in my field/discipline

When first seeing this, I looked at the Communications/Journalism line several times to make sure I was reading it correctly. Over 60% of respondents strongly disagreed that it’s an issue in their discipline?! Even given that this percentage translates to 3 or 4 people, it’s still a remarkable result. I emailed Dr. Saunders to solicit her comments on this finding and she said, “ I completely agree with you about the oddness of these results. …the respondents might have been reading the question a little differently than I intended– for instance, maybe they were thinking about the spread of misinformation by trained journalists or by communications/journalism instructors as opposed to whether misinformation is spread in this field in general…although that seems a bit of a stretch as well. And certainly there are trained journalists and reporters who do purposefully or inadvertently spread misinformation.” Unfortunately, since no one from Communications/Journalism was available for a follow-up interview, Dr. Saunders couldn’t get more clarification on this result.

The article also discusses faculty interaction with librarians on mis/disinformation. The vast majority of all respondents have not worked with a librarian to specifically address the topic in their classes. However, Saunders notes that respondents’ most popular method of addressing mis/disinformation in their classes is “requiring students to cite trustworthy sources in assignments.” Assisting with this, of course, is often a focus of our instruction sessions, so perhaps in faculty’s mind we are addressing the issue. While some of the skills used to find academic research are helpful when assessing the veracity of information on Facebook, I believe they’re not identical.

Any effort on our part to integrate discussions of mis/disinformation in class instruction sessions requires among the most precious of resources on a college campus: time. Using a portion of our already-constrained instruction time to focus on these issues rather than how to use our catalogs or understand a citation won’t be welcomed by all faculty. That said, I think it’s a topic worth exploring and about which I hope to have conversations with my faculty in preparation for this fall’s classes.

In her message to me, Dr. Saunders noted that she conducted a parallel survey of academic librarians, an analysis of which she hopes will be published soon. I look forward to that article and to reading others about how we can address mis/disinformation.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: