The cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning

The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) is a research and development group based in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. 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.

Teacher tested

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.

Check out our latest videos

Meet the COR team

The COR curriculum is a project of the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)—a research and development group in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.

Sam Wineburg

Sam is the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education and, by courtesy, of History and American Studies 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. Wineburg is the founder and faculty director of 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, Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone), was published in 2018 by the University of Chicago Press.

Joel Breakstone

Joel is the director of the Stanford History Education Group. He leads SHEG’s efforts to research, develop, and disseminate free curriculum and assessments. In 2014, Joel received the Larry Metcalf Exemplary Dissertation Award from the National Council for the Social Studies. He holds a B.A. in History from Brown University and a M.A. in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College. Before completing his Ph.D. at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, he taught high school history in Vermont.

Mark Smith

Mark is SHEG’s director of assessment. Along with colleagues Joel Breakstone and Sam Wineburg, Mark 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. He has contributed to SHEG's research into the efficacy of COR materials.

Sarah McGrew

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 now serves as a researcher and professional development consultant on SHEG projects. 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.

Teresa Ortega

Teresa Ortega is SHEG’s associate director. She collaborates on SHEG’s research studies, history curriculum and assessments, and civic online reasoning curriculum and assessments. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in history from Stanford.

Darby Kerr

Darby is a program associate for SHEG. She graduated from Seattle University with a B.A. in History in 2015. Darby previously worked at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education as an administrative assistant.

Learn more about our research

Our curriculum is built on a foundation of peer-reviewed research.