It works for me…

Fallacy Memes

By Suzanne Labadie

With the new online training at OCC, with which many of us are familiar, I have kicked my online classes into shape in the last year. Just now, I’m thinking back to this time last October, when I had just completed the 5 weeks of online training. I was confident someone up there at DO or AH or SOMEwhere hoped to make the rest of my life a living hell and was doing a bang up job of it. Ahhh…those were the days. On the flip side, I am so glad that I got that training out of the way and jumped on the train early.

As I revamped my classes, I did have a chance to get a little creative with some of my assignments, and one that I am particularly proud of is one called the Fallacy Meme assignment. I’m sure many of you are familiar with memes…even if you don’t know it. Here’s one of my favorite from a recent effort to find memes to discuss in my on-campus 1520 class:

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Of course, this is a funny joke (to me!)…but it is also a fun way to talk about fallacies. Students can break down the joke and see that the claim this meme makes is that people who don’t believe in climate change believe that they are “smarter than science.” In other words, you can’t believe in climate change and believe in science. This makes the meme a false dilemma fallacy.

Another interpretation might be the straw man fallacy, where Willy Wonka places an argument in the person’s mouth that they did not make and that is easily defeated: “I’m smarter than science.”

The fallacy meme assignment asks students to create their own meme using a free online meme generator (Meme GeneratorMake a Meme). They choose an image (or upload their own) and insert text to make a joke, downloading a copy of their creation. Students then write a discussion post that includes their meme and an explanation of what fallacy it represents, with reference to the textbook information provided for that fallacy.

I require students to create their own meme, but you could easily ask them to find a fallacious meme online and turn this into an analysis assignment only. Some students will struggle to make a joke, but many quickly warm to the opportunity to have a bit of fun. Two important things that happen with this assignment are

  1. Students look at everyday things with an academic lens
  2. Students engage in two of the higher levels of learning: evaluation and creation

While we often get students to engage in these two learning processes through an essay assignment, this is a low-stakes assignment that emphasizes the visual and allows me to provide rapid feedback on their ability to identify and explain fallacious reasoning.

Memes are really nothing new, but it is striking how students enjoy the opportunity to apply things they’ve learned in the classroom to their day-to-day world. I would suggest it is enjoyable for the instructor as well.

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