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What Think-Aloud Protocols Can Teach Us about How People Manage Political Information
Unformatted Document Text:  skill at identifying and using the rules in a situation to affect outcomes; and (3) skill at using political information to arrive at well-argued political positions. The centerpiece of the course has become a series of legislative-style simulations on hot political issues – e.g., school prayer, affirmative action, and the war on terror. While the simulation has implications for helping build all of the skills listed above, this paper focuses on the final skill item – information skills. As such, I highlight those aspects of the simulations most relevant to building this skill set; interested readers can consult Bernstein (2008) for more information on the simulations or the other skills being built in the course. Building Information Skills One of the most important skills I aim to teach in this class concerns what I call “information skills.” Simply put, citizens today are bombarded with information on every conceivable topic. Imagine telling a student to Google “Barack Obama” if he or she wished to discover whether to vote for Obama. The student might be drawn to websites that offer unbiased information; alternatively, he or she might be drawn to sites that are biased on one way or another. The reliability of each site might be called into question, since anyone with technological skill could set up a webpage that, on the face of it, appears to be accurate and truthful. Thus, a central goal of the course becomes building “information literacy” on the part of my students (see Association of College and Research Libraries 2000; Mackey and Jacobson 2005). In order to help build information skills, students are given a packet of readings about two weeks before each simulation begins. The packet includes about ten short (1-2 page) articles on the issue in question, selected in such a way that they represent the collection of information out there about the issue (most sources were, at one point or another, top-30 Google hits on the subject). The readings come from a multiple of ideological positions – far left to far right, and many points in between. They also sample the reliability scale, and their use of evidence ranges from quite elegant and complete to rather sketchy and misleading. The goal is to share with students the range of material they would confront if they began to explore the issue on their own. 4

Authors: Bernstein, Jeffrey.
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skill at identifying and using the rules in a situation to affect outcomes; and (3) skill at
using political information to arrive at well-argued political positions.
The centerpiece of the course has become a series of legislative-style simulations
on hot political issues – e.g., school prayer, affirmative action, and the war on terror.
While the simulation has implications for helping build all of the skills listed above, this
paper focuses on the final skill item – information skills. As such, I highlight those
aspects of the simulations most relevant to building this skill set; interested readers can
consult Bernstein (2008) for more information on the simulations or the other skills being
built in the course.
Building Information Skills
One of the most important skills I aim to teach in this class concerns what I call
“information skills.” Simply put, citizens today are bombarded with information on
every conceivable topic. Imagine telling a student to Google “Barack Obama” if he or
she wished to discover whether to vote for Obama. The student might be drawn to
websites that offer unbiased information; alternatively, he or she might be drawn to sites
that are biased on one way or another. The reliability of each site might be called into
question, since anyone with technological skill could set up a webpage that, on the face
of it, appears to be accurate and truthful. Thus, a central goal of the course becomes
building “information literacy” on the part of my students (see Association of College
and Research Libraries 2000; Mackey and Jacobson 2005).
In order to help build information skills, students are given a packet of readings
about two weeks before each simulation begins. The packet includes about ten short (1-2
page) articles on the issue in question, selected in such a way that they represent the
collection of information out there about the issue (most sources were, at one point or
another, top-30 Google hits on the subject). The readings come from a multiple of
ideological positions – far left to far right, and many points in between. They also sample
the reliability scale, and their use of evidence ranges from quite elegant and complete to
rather sketchy and misleading. The goal is to share with students the range of material
they would confront if they began to explore the issue on their own.
4


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