The Top Hit: How a research report on “Evaluating Information” became the SDR’s most visited item
When the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) set out in January 2015 to research the ability of students to judge the credibility of online information, they could never have predicted that their results would be disseminated precisely at a time when the level of public concern over the availability, spread, and impact of misinformation online was sky high.
The SHEG research report, Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning, is dated 22 November 2016, exactly one fortnight after the U.S. presidential election that resulted in Donald J. Trump’s win amid a storm of controversies, among them confirmed misinformation campaigns on social media targeted at unsuspecting voters by foreign actors.
Teresa Elena Ortega, SHEG’s Assistant Director of Curriculum and Operations and a member of the original research team led by Professor Sam Wineburg, deposited the report in the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR) in January 2017, mere days before Trump’s inauguration. The research, funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, shows that students struggle to discern the veracity of information that flows across their device screens, despite the efforts of educators to teach digital literacy.
The report and subsequent publications by the SHEG team are part of the GSE Open Archive, an open access collection for working papers, published articles, and other materials produced by the faculty, staff, and students at Stanford University Graduate School of Education. The Open Archive is one of hundreds of collections of publications, datasets and library and archive materials hosted and preserved in the SDR.
According to the SDR analytics, Evaluating Information is far and away the deposit with the most number of pageviews and users: over 119,000 pageviews since it was first available from the SDR and over 11,600 users since July 1, 2018.
Several big spikes of traffic occur from the point when the research was first published in an academic journal (one year after the report was available in the Open Archive) up to the online course, Civic Online Reasoning, launched just last month on MIT’s open course platform, edX, with hundreds of registered students.
It is not surprising that the SHEG research report would garner such attention in (and by) the media in the time that followed its release, when Americans found themselves swimming in a sea of uncertain information spiked with proclaimed “alternative facts” and alleged “fake news”.
Ortega reflected back on the initial research report publication: “The timing was a fairly remarkable win. We had a mini maelstrom of journalistic interest. We were getting lots of reporters reaching out to us, lots of news outlets reported on the findings originally. The other thing that accounts for the popularity is even more news outlets of different kinds who were then reporting on the reporting. For example Glamour magazine recycled what the Wall Street Journal originally had published about the study and linked to the report in the SDR. So, yeah, it had a substantial reach for sure.”
Ortega also points out the value and impact of the research report’s availability to the public well ahead of formal academic publication: “The importance of having access to timely research through something like the GSE Open Archive is real. It just takes time to go through the process of preparing something for submission to an academic journal, getting the reviewers to review … it’s multiple phases of this. And this topic was something of interest to the general public, we believe, and to educators who don’t have access to journal databases like JSTOR, etc. The fact that we were able to disseminate the report widely in a time that there was this public concern — to be able to strike while the iron was hot — was because we could put it in the GSE Open Archive hosted by the SDR.”
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