June 7, 2013

Evaluating sources is not a dichotomy

As you might know by now if you read my blog or follow me on Twitter, I'm co-teaching our one-credit course for undergrads and am implementing the use of digital badges (we just got IRB approval as of yesterday!). In one of the tasks students need to complete, I found myself falling into the trap of absolute language. I wanted them to complete an activity where they evaluate a website, and in the directions realized that I wrote, "...and explain why you think this is or is not a credible source..." etc.

The problem with that is most sources are not all good or all bad. There are some sources out there that do set out to deceive people (though sometimes I don't think those content creators even think they are being "evil," they just believe their viewpoint is right and important and want others to do the same; it all comes down to perspective). But anyhow, I think it's dangerous for students to be put in the mindset that a piece of information is all good or all bad. They might use a checklist and go through the site / resource to determine if it meets particular criteria, but not having them think critically about a range of goodness/badness and a gray area sets them up to actually think less critically overall. Once they check off enough boxes to determine a source as all good or all bad, they don't have to think about the information much anymore: it's just use it or don't use it at this point.

I changed my wording on this activity to encourage a better understanding of a spectrum of quality and credibility. My hope for when they get to this assignment, after doing some readings, tutorials, and critical thinking, is that they will realize research is a fluid and organic process, and they shouldn't stop thinking just because a lens for evaluation takes some of the burden off of them initially.