The cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning
In 2014, we set out to develop short assessments to gauge young people’s ability to evaluate online content. Our work was supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Silver Giving Foundation.
Specifically, we sought to measure Civic Online Reasoning — the ability to effectively search for, evaluate, and verify social and political information online. We use this term to highlight the civic aims of this work. The ability to evaluate online content has become a prerequisite for thoughtful democratic participation.
Checking in with fact checkers
We asked professional fact checkers from the nation’s leading news organizations to evaluate online sources. In comparison to history professors and Stanford undergraduates, the fact checkers were more effective and efficient in evaluating digital content by asking three main questions.
We developed dozens of tasks focused on these questions and collected thousands of student responses. There was an alarming consistency in student performance. From middle school to college, students struggled to perform basic evaluations of online content.
Fact checkers prioritize these questions:
Who’s behind the information?
What’s the evidence?
What do other sources say?
The creation of a curriculum
When we released the findings of our assessment research in November 2016, it attracted significant attention by major media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the BBC, TIME magazine, and the New York Times. There was also a flurry of requests for curriculum to address this problem.
The research done with professional fact checkers provided the theoretical foundation for the development of our Civic Online Reasoning curriculum. This work was supported by Google.org. The curriculum includes 30 free lessons and is accompanied by short videos for teachers.
The COR curriculum is designed to help educators teach students the methods that fact checkers use to evaluate the trustworthiness of online sources. The lessons and assessments that make up the curriculum provide students with opportunities to apply fact checkers’ questions to real-world examples.
Tested in real classrooms, the curriculum covers topics such as the wise use of Wikipedia, evaluating claims on social media, determining website reliability, and identifying trustworthy evidence. These free materials allow students to practice and learn these important skills through structured activities.
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Meet the COR team
The COR curriculum is a project of the Digital Inquiry Group (DIG).
Sam Wineburg is Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of DIG. He is the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at Stanford University. Educated at Brown and Berkeley, he holds a doctorate in Psychological Studies in Education from Stanford and an honorary doctorate from Sweden's Umeå University. In 2002, Wineburg founded the Stanford History Education Group. His current work focuses on how people judge the credibility of digital content—research that has been reported in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, TIME Magazine, the BBC, and Die Zeit. His latest book, Verified: How to Think Straight, Get Duped Less, and Make Better Decisions about What to Believe Online, with Mike Caufield, was published in 2023 by the University of Chicago Press.
Joel Breakstone is Co-Founder and Executive Director of DIG. He directed the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) from 2013 to 2023. He leads DIG's efforts to research, develop, and disseminate free curriculum and assessments. This work has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and E.W. Scripps. His research has appeared in a range of journals, including Educational Researcher, Misinformation Review, and the Journal of Educational Psychology, and has won awards from the American Historical Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Technology Leadership Initiative. He completed a B.A. in history at Brown University, a M.A. in Liberal Studies at Dartmouth College, and a Ph.D. at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Before Stanford, he taught high school history in Vermont.
Mark Smith is DIG’s Director of Assessment. He previously served as Director of Assessment for SHEG. Along with colleagues Joel Breakstone and Sam Wineburg, he led the development of SHEG's assessment website, Beyond the Bubble. He received a Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014 and also holds a M.A.T. in secondary social studies education from the University of Iowa and a B.A. in history and political science from the University of Northern Iowa. Previously, he taught high school social studies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Plano, Texas; and Palo Alto, California. His research is focused on K-12 history assessment, particularly on issues of validity and generalizability.
Sarah is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She previously co-directed the Civic Online Reasoning project. She grew up in Michigan and earned a B.A. in Political Science and Education from Swarthmore College before completing the Stanford Teacher Education Program. After STEP, she taught world history in Washington, D.C., for five years.