Monthly Archives: November 2016

Fact or Fiction: Can Students Tell the Difference?

A recent article from NPR ( describes some startling new research about students’ inability to discern “fake news” from “real news”. It is really interesting how little awareness students seem to have – and not just younger students – all the way through college about finding valid and reliable information.

You probably see the connection coming already . . . this is yet another example of why it is so critical that we teach the skill of accessing valid and reliable information. Not only for their health but also for their roles as citizens! We cannot underestimate the importance of helping our students become informed consumers of information – all kinds of information.

Interestingly, I just completed an assignment with my undergraduate students in which I asked them to do research and advocate for their position on the ballot question of legalizing marijuana (it was timely as we did this the week before we voted on this ballot question in Massachusetts).  They chose their side and did their “research”. I noticed a few things from this activity:

  • • Their “research” involved finding things on news sites or other potentially biased websites
  • • They freely used “facts” that they found – whether or not they could verify those facts as actual truth or just “spin”
  • • There is a LOT of engaging, eye catching, funny, easy-to-read, easy-to-find information that is essentially someone’s opinion or version of truth and my students didn’t worry too much about using it

To be fair . . . in this case I was asking them to focus more on the advocacy side of things than the accessing valid and reliable information side of things . . . but still.

Then, I read one student’s reflection about the activity. Their rationale used the argument that when you try to advocate for something you say whatever you think your audience wants to hear in order to prove your point.

Huh . . .

This isn’t really wrong . . . but this also wasn’t the take away I was hoping for. I hoped it would help them see how easy it is to find information that confirms our own ideas, that sometimes “facts” aren’t facts, and that it can be hard to find actual truth as opposed to just versions of the truth spun to meet an agenda. We all should CARE that it is this hard to be informed consumers who are making choices informed by truth not versions of it.

In another interesting connection to this article, I use an activity in which I have students Google a health related question and  examine and evaluate the websites that come up on the Google search.

One of the criteria is “Accuracy” in which students have to justify why the information from the source is accurate. Do you know what almost 100% of them said was their justification?

Prior knowledge or hearing the information before.

Yes, it was that they heard that information before or it aligns with prior knowledge/learning so that must be a reason to believe it. Now, in some cases, this may be OK. If you are a college student taking (hopefully) courses that are providing the most current, evidence-based content then maybe, maybe, this is an appropriate justification. But is it? If we can only judge accuracy based on our own prior knowledge – is this really accurate? Are we really taking an opportunity to find the truth? Or just the truth as we know it?

And of course, we could go into a whole dialogue about what “truth” even means . . . but lets move on to Facebook – if that isn’t truth what is?

Within a week of the advocacy activity I did with my undergraduate students, the NPR article showed up on Facebook (seriously  . . . how does Facebook do that?) and in some ways I felt validated. These students DO need more support in developing skills around finding truth in an era where “information” is all around. We DO need to ensure that our students are thoughtful, engaged consumers who do not just stop when they find things that confirm what they already know, who go the next step to verify and search out facts, not just information.

Teaching the skill of accessing valid and reliable information IS important, I would argue, critical for our students. We have a duty to our students to help them become active, engaged, thoughtful, discerning, critical consumers of all information.

Take a look at other support for the work you are doing! Be sure to check out the resources at the end of the NPR article. Here are some others if you haven’t seen them:

How do you teach the skill of accessing valid and reliable information? Share your stories about the need to develop this skill and any other resources to justify just how important this skill is!

Values in Health Education – The Role of the Health Educator

It is often said that our job as health educators should be values neutral. We shouldn’t let our personal values and beliefs sway our teaching or be used to get students to see it “our” way.

Is this accurate though? Should we really be values neutral? Should we avoid talking about how values and beliefs influence behavior because we don’t want to run the risk of appearing to impart our personal beliefs and values onto our students?  I’m not so sure…

Saying this, I realize, may raise some eyebrows. You may be thinking – “of course it is our job to keep our values out of it. As educators, we cannot persuade our students to our way of thinking.”

I would agree with you.

In fact, I often tell my students that I am not here to tell you whether your beliefs and values are right or wrong. Rather, I will ask you to think critically about  how your values form a foundation for the choices you make concerning your health. I will have you reflect on whether or not your values and beliefs align with choosing health enhancing behaviors. I will ask you to determine if your health behaviors align with your values. If your values and beliefs do not align, I may ask you to consider whether you need to rethink your beliefs…but never require you to change them.

I will ask my students to open their minds and be willing to discuss health behaviors in ways that are honest and respectful recognizing that others make health choices for reasons that are very personal to them. I will also ask my students to consider health from multiple perspectives to better understand how values and beliefs do not fit into a box that looks the same in all situations. For example, take the value of safety. Would all of your students think about this in the same way? For some, it may mean physical safety, others it is emotional safety, while others still may think of safety in terms of social settings.

Where I ask you to stretch your thinking is in how we use/teach the concept of values and beliefs in our curriculum. I do believe it is our job as health educators to have our students think critically about the behaviors they engage in, the beliefs and values that guide those behaviors and whether or not those behaviors are a true reflection of how they see themselves (or want to see themselves).

What does this look like in the classroom?

I recently asked my students to complete an assignment to identify their top values. Once the top 5 were identified we discussed how those values shaped their behavior – health and otherwise in various dimensions. They had to identify indicators that demonstrate they are acting in accordance with their values. Finally, students were asked to identify a current health behavior that is out of alignment with their values. This was the hard part for many of them.

Many students initially defaulted to “my behaviors align with my values”, until I had them dig a little further and consider what it means to act in a way that aligns with your personal values. I had them consider the following questions:

  1. If you were to ask your family or friends, would they know these values are important to you?
  2. Is there a behavior that you recently engaged in that an outsider might not consider aligned with your values? Would you agree or disagree with their view?
  3. Think of a health behavior you would like to change or improve, how could your beliefs and values support improving this behavior to enhance your health?
  4. Are their any health beliefs you need to reconsider in order to live a healthier life?

After asking these questions, many students reflected on the behavior they want to improve and noted that it was this behavior that was most out of alignment with their values. Many gave ideas or strategies they could employ to improve their health in a way that brought them into alignment with what they value most and some even noted that they needed to change their beliefs about what health looks like in that context to become healthier.

So, where do we, the health educators, come in?

Health educators provide the opportunity for this to happen. In order for this to be successful, I knew that I couldn’t jump in day one and ask students to do an activity like this. I needed to create the space and environment for my students to let this happen. I had to allow students to struggle with their personal feelings in order to determine their values. Most of all, I had to put aside my notion of what is important in terms of behavior change. At the end of the day, whether your top value is faith, life, integrity, humor, beauty, etc, a key component of behavior change is a personal desire to make a change…and often a change that aligns with personal beliefs and values.

I encourage you to create that space and be a safe zone for students to explore their values and beliefs. Allow students to consider how those values and beliefs align with their health behaviors and becoming the person they want to be. Encourage your students to share their values and beliefs with trusted adults in their life, help them to embrace what makes them who they are.

While I will still argue that it isn’t appropriate to impart our values on our students, we do have a role to play in supporting our students  becoming the best version of themselves – and part of that includes understanding what we value and why.


Do you talk about values or have students consider how values influence their health choices? Let us know and be part of the conversation below.