Free people from filter bubbles so they can better understand the world and each other.
It’s a search tool. It’s a conversation opener. It’s a bubble burster.
Though I just discovered it, the news aggregator AllSides has been around for around four years as a platform that curates and uses crowd-sourcing technology to identify perspective in news stories. For middle and high school teachers and learners, and for librarians focused on media literacy, AllSides is a bit of a news search game changer.
AllSides4schools launched in September in response to the flood of news surrounding the presidential election, as a kind of antidote to the filter bubble/echo chamber information landscape that surrounds us and often obscures the scope of our choices.
I recently chatted with AllSides’ Founder and CEO, John Gable and Lucy Pinto, Schools Program Director.
John, who worked at Netscape way back at the beginning of the Web, remembers a shared vision of a future that would allow us to engage in conversations to promoted better understandings of our world, help us to form relationships, and make better decisions.
Then, we were all about changing the world. While in a lot of ways the Web has lived up to its promise, in some ways it did not. In terms of politics we are polarized. And sometimes we do not bother talking to each other.
John noted that many teachers discovered AllSides during election season, possibly because they felt challenged by how to frame controversial news issues in class, fearing push-back from parents and administrators. They were reluctant to create further polarization and to reveal or influence with their own political biases.
If those conversations do not happen in our schools, we miss important opportunities to teach respectful discourse, encourage social/emotional learning and bridge gaps of understanding.
Ironically, while we have access to more information than ever before, we may see fewer perspectives in our search results. Filter bubbles and echo chambers, and the choices we ourselves make, limit what we see online so that we tend to see the facts, arguments, individual and groups who amplify our own opinions and belief systems and limit us to one side of a story, that is, unless we consciously and actively work to expand our scope. Outside of our carefully curated subscription databases, seldom do we get to see the range of responses to a critical news issue in a side-by-side, click-to-see-another-perspective format.
John shared that Allsides4schools tries to accomplish two things:
to allow us strategies for breaking out of our own information bubbles to help us connect in a more human way with people who may not share our own beliefs and backgrounds. We can’t know an issue, if we can’t discuss it. To discuss controversial topics effectively, we need two things: our hearts and our minds. To have a healthy, productive discussion, we first need to have some kind of genuine human connection that makes it possible to truly listen to each other.
How does AllSides work?
Users may browse a lengthy list of Topics and Issues, examine the Story of the Week or conduct their own keyword search for news. The see news ratings for each story and can filter for perspective and trace a story back in time. The Perspectives Blog acknowledges AllSides’ potential bias around a news issue and presents snippets from multiple perspectives as well as a list of recent relevant posts.
The AllSides Bias Rating, reflects
the average judgment of the American people. We don’t use a convoluted mathematical or artificial intelligence model, but instead have regular people representing the broad spectrum of Americans blindly rate the bias of articles. That produces a fair, verifiable bias rating.
Presented as a left-center-right scale, the rating is determined using levels of bias verification that include: blind surveys, third party data, community feedback, editorial reviews, secondary research and a confidence level. The bias rating refers to news articles on the source’s website, not from opinion pieces or what is broadcasted on TV or radio. The opinion writers from the same media source may have different bias ratings, so individual writers often are rated separately.
I see rich opportunities for librarian-led conversations about these ratings. What about an article makes it appear to lean in a particular direction? Do you agree with the rating? Is there a point of view that is missing in the results?
In cooperation with the nonprofit Living Room Conversations, AllSides supports teachers, grades 6 through 12, in navigating those challenging conversations using thoughtful questions and strategies for encouraging civil dialog and conversation. Examples include: Let’s Talk about Race, Faith in Society, and Immigration. You will also find generic support for starting a conversation on any topic
A lesson called Relationships First guides students through a process where they discover more about themselves and each other, respecting divergent points of view, and learn ground rules and best practices for productive discussions.
The impressive AllSides Dictionary examines nearly 400 controversial terms. Definitions are the results of the discussions among 30 academics and mediators representing the full political spectrum. Teachers will want to explore and share the Dictionary Term Lesson Plan.
Students and teachers can certainly use the AllSides platform on its own to conduct news searches for nearly any topic or issue and discover far more about the spectrum of perspectives than they might in a standard Google search. But teachers who choose to sign up for a free Allsides4Schools account have the ability to customize the interface, create shared student and teacher boards, allow students to create profiles that allow them to Rate Own Bias, (based on a Pew Research poll criteria), create discussion groups, encourage students to build arguments based on templated pros and cons, and aggregate arguments. Registered teachers access a host of tools, lesson plans and assessments, as well as email updates. Resources are Common Core-aligned and designed to support interdisciplinary learning and foster critical thinking, collaboration, and communication, and support Social Emotional Learning (SEL).