Educating Students on Recognizing Reliable Sources

During my childhood in the early 1990s, I grew up with encyclopedias. Whenever my teacher assigned me a research project on the causes of the Cold War, I would grab volume C from the bookshelf, look up the topic in the index, and read through numerous pages of small-print text until I found the information I needed. The Encyclopedia Britannica had a team of editors who ensured the reliability of the information I accessed.

In 2012, when I assigned the same research project to my students, they turned to Wikipedia, where they could find all the relevant information on a single webpage. At the bottom of the Wikipedia page, there were sources and links that directed them to mostly trustworthy information.

How Can We Determine Accuracy?

Fast forward to 2023, and now students can enter their research prompts into ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI), which compiles all the necessary information from numerous sources on the internet in a matter of seconds. However, this AI does not provide citations or guarantee the veracity and reliability of the information it generates. Users must simply trust the accuracy of the program.

However, what if this information is incorrect? What if the AI pulls from biased sources? What if it overlooks crucial points? What if the sources it draws from are written by individuals lacking expertise in the subject matter? In my opinion, this will likely result in essays being flagged for using AI to generate content or receiving lower grades due to missing key points and failure to cite sources.

However, the larger issue at hand is the rising threat of misinformation. With the rise of social media, the internet has already become a major source of misinformation and disinformation. The availability of tools like ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot will only exacerbate this problem. That is why it is crucial for educators to include the skill of critically evaluating sources in every research assignment. One effective method of teaching this skill is through the use of the CRAAP Test developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.

What is the CRAAP Test?

The CRAAP Test is a reliable method for determining the quality of a source. The acronym stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Teachers can guide students in evaluating sources by asking relevant questions associated with each element of the acronym.

Currency: Is the information up-to-date? Is it still relevant or outdated? Does it matter for your research? Has the information been updated since publication?

Relevance: Does the source directly relate to your topic? Who is the intended audience? Does it meet the requirements of your work?

Authority: Is the author qualified to write on this subject? What credentials or expertise do they have?

Accuracy: Is the information supported by evidence? Can you find similar information from multiple sources? Is the writing presented professionally?

Purpose: What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? Is the information presented as fact or opinion?

6 Methods for Teaching the CRAAP Test to Students

There are several ways to teach students how to utilize the CRAAP Test. You can start by using the one I created, print it out, and have students use it as a reference. Alternatively, you can create a slide show that goes through each letter of the acronym, instructing students to apply it when selecting sources. However, I believe that the most effective learning occurs through active practice.

Here are some activities to help students practice using the CRAAP Test before implementing it authentically in their work:

1. Source Showdown: Organize a bracket-style competition where sources are pitted against each other, and students use the CRAAP Test to determine which source is more reliable. Students can debate their choices and defend their reasoning, advancing the winner to the next round.

2. Interactive Game: Create an interactive game using platforms such as Kahoot or Quizlet, where students utilize the CRAAP Test to evaluate sources. Include a mix of credible and noncredible sources to keep the game engaging.

3. Source Scavenger Hunt: Design a scavenger hunt where students use Google to search for sources related to a specific topic. Instruct students to evaluate each source they find using the CRAAP Test, awarding points for each credible source they identify.

4. CRAAP Race: Compile a list of sources and have students work in groups to evaluate them. The first group to correctly evaluate all the sources wins.

5. CRAAP Poster: Assign students to work in groups and create posters that explain the criteria of the CRAAP Test. These posters can be created digitally or on poster boards and then displayed in the classroom as a reference throughout the school year.

6. Debate: Assign students controversial topics and have them find sources to support their respective arguments. Before the debate, prompt students to evaluate each other’s sources using the CRAAP Test and challenge the credibility of their sources during the debate.

When the Protocol Becomes Second Nature

Similar to any effective teaching protocol, the ultimate goal of teaching the CRAAP Test is for students to become so well-versed in it that they no longer require the specific method when they leave the classroom. Even when students are not writing research papers or working on class projects, they will still possess the skills to evaluate sources effectively. They will understand that not everything they encounter on social media, in the news, or through AI-generated content is reliable or valuable. By utilizing this litmus test, they will always discern what information is truly valuable.

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