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Data Detection: Fallacy, bias, limitations

Introduction


In today's information age, where data surrounds us, the ability to critically assess research and data is more important than ever. Students preparing for the Advanced Placement Language and Composition course are well-positioned to develop these crucial skills. Beyond crafting eloquent essays and persuasive arguments, it is equally vital for students to understand research limitations and data fallacies. In this blog post, we will delve into the importance of teaching research limitations and data fallacies in AP Language and Composition.


Understanding Research Limitations

  1. Fostering Critical Thinking

Teaching research limitations in AP Lang encourages students to think critically about the sources they encounter. It prompts them to question the validity and reliability of information, which is an essential skill in a world filled with misinformation and biased content. By recognizing that all research has inherent limitations, students become discerning consumers of information, better equipped to separate fact from fiction.


2. Enhancing Argumentative Skills


Research limitations play a pivotal role in argumentation. Students who understand these limitations can construct stronger arguments by acknowledging counterarguments, anticipating objections, and refining their own claims. They become adept at crafting nuanced and balanced perspectives, a hallmark of effective communication in AP Lang.


3. Promoting Ethical Research Practices


Teaching research limitations also instills ethical research practices. It encourages students to respect the boundaries of research and avoid overgeneralization or misrepresentation of data. This ethical dimension is essential as it prepares students to be responsible contributors to the academic and intellectual community.


Recognizing Data Fallacies

  1. Avoiding Confirmation Bias

Data fallacies are like snares for confirmation bias. Teaching students to recognize them helps counteract this cognitive bias, enabling students to approach data with an open and critical mindset. In AP Lang, this skill translates to crafting persuasive arguments based on a careful analysis of data rather than cherry-picking data to support preconceived notions.


2. Strengthening Rhetorical Appeals


Ethos, pathos, and logos are central to the AP Lang curriculum. Understanding data fallacies contributes significantly to strengthening these rhetorical appeals. Ethos, or credibility, is bolstered when students can demonstrate that their data analysis is sound and unbiased. Pathos, or emotional appeal, benefits from accurate data interpretation, while logos, or logical appeal, is dependent on avoiding fallacious reasoning.


3. Preparing for Real-World Challenges


Data fallacies are not limited to the classroom; they are prevalent in public discourse and media. By teaching students to identify these fallacies, educators empower them to engage critically with the information they encounter daily, equipping them for informed participation in societal debates.


AP Lesson:


To teach these concepts, I like to show students the background behind the data they receive through social media and other technology sources. Most students don't take the time to consider nuance, fallacy, or intent of the researcher, which is why I think it is important to help students see this truth.


To begin, I give students a simple advertisement that most people would commonly view, read, and perhaps feel pursuaded.


But within the ad, we then examine the misleading statistics including the teeny-tiny print at the bottom. Below we see #voteoralb, which is ultimately misleading. We see that the survey was taken from Nielson Homescan which is a consumer survey that is optional and random. As a class, we discuss who would take the survey and why they would take it. We then consider the validity of the statistic.


To fully grasp the concept of limitations, it is important to actually conduct a survey. I use candy, something for which almost every student has an opinion.



I use Microsoft Forms to collect data, simply because it is easy to collect and give the results to the students. Google Forms works great and I have even used Survey Monkey. I create a QR code to make it easy. I also ask the following questions:

  • - What is your age?

  • - Where have you lived besides locally?

  • - What is the date and time?

  • - If comfortable, what is your gender?


It is important that you try gathering some identity facts about your population so that you can consider the limitations.


We take the survey and then I give them the results.


With these results, I let them work in groups to examine the evidence and limitations. They are tasked with:

  • Draw conclusions

  • Ask questions

  • Identify fallacy

  • Make observations about the study

They then write their ideas on the board for a larger class discussion:


As you can see, the students do a great job of recognizing fallacy and limitation within the study.


Students then conduct a survey of their own.



Students love this activity and they have a great time designing their own research question and methodology. We then have a presentation day where students share their results and discuss their limitations and conclusions.


We then choose a news article for students to focus on hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are such an undervalued tool! I love asking students: "how many of you click on hyperlinks?" and the classroom is quiet. They don't!


You can use any news article, but the idea is to track all hyperlinks back to the primary source. Students will find that some information tracks back to multiple sources! We then discuss the danger of detachment, information that has been funneled down and perhaps skewed. It is like the game of telephone or whisper down the lane. We uncover the power of hyperlinks and students gain a new understanding of fallacy.

By this time, I love giving students an essay to consider.


I love these two essays, because the argument has students work directly with certainty and doubt and Fridman's essay has a great deal of misleading "facts" that are intended to stir the audience.


At this point, I often move into a unit on science and technology within the realm of bias, nuance, and fallacy.


We work through Barry's The Great Influenza prompt.



And this excerpt is a great opportunity to teach syntactical choices in rhetoric. So I provide a number of his syntactical strategies.






After we walk through this Question 2 essay, I then further discuss fallacy and satire.





And I give them a fun list of about 40 slides of different fallacies and then satirical techniques.

I conclude satire with and essay: Magnasoles, Edward O Wilson's Satire (all released prompts).


And finally, I conclude our unit with a synthesis discussion:




Conclusion

Teaching research limitations and data fallacies in AP Language and Composition is not just an academic exercise; it is a vital skill set for life in the digital age. By fostering critical thinking, enhancing argumentative skills, promoting ethical research practices, avoiding confirmation bias, strengthening rhetorical appeals, and preparing students for real-world challenges, educators empower their students to become responsible, discerning, and effective communicators. As we navigate an era inundated with information, these skills are indispensable for success, both in academia and beyond.

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a passionate high school English and Digital Media teacher whose lifelong purpose is to ignite creativity and critical thought in young minds. With an unwavering commitment to nurturing imagination and fostering intellectual curiosity, I thrive on embracing each student's unique voice and I hope to inspire other teachers with my own journey.

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