DePaul Librarians Publish New Source Evaluation Curriculum

In an increasingly complex information landscape, finding credible and reliable sources can challenge even the experts. Through a robust information literacy program and research help services, DePaul librarians teach students to critically examine sources and recognize high quality, credible and accurate information. Librarians recently identified the need for a redesigned approach to source evaluation and developed an engaging set of tools to enhance library instruction and support student researchers. In their recently published article, Going Beyond the Source: A Revised Curriculum for Source Evaluation, DePaul librarians Firouzeh Rismiller, Holly Cerney, Susan Shultz, Grace Spiewak, and Sveta Stoytcheva outlined the process of creating this new curriculum from idea to implementation.

“The purpose of our redesign was to encourage students to evaluate sources in the context of the broader social and information landscape, to incorporate lateral reading, and to employ critical thinking skills.”

DePaul librarians have long partnered with the First-Year Writing Program to provide information literacy instruction to every student enrolled in Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse (WRD) 104 through a library research workshop with source evaluation as a key component. While the library workshop previously made use of evaluation checklists, the binary nature of these tools can oversimplify evaluation criteria and leave out important context. DePaul librarians began developing their own framework that would encourage students to think critically about the source itself and also look more broadly at the information landscape in which the source exists. This new approach, titled Source + Beyond the Source, includes a series of questions for researchers to investigate, including “beyond the source” questions that require critical thinking and reflection on how and why the information was created and shared.

“We particularly wanted the new framework to address evaluation from a social justice lens by asking questions like Who is missing from the conversation? and encouraging students to consider marginalized voices, global perspectives, and others when coming up with an answer.”

In library instruction workshops, students are now guided through an active, discussion-based lesson plan in which they examine several sources typical of those found in everyday life and academic research. Once students have identified basic evaluation criteria like the author’s credentials and date of publication, the real fun begins! Students are invited to consider broader questions about the social and information landscape, for example What other information can you find about this topic? and Why do you need this information? Additional questions like How did the information find you? highlight the role algorithms play in search results and introduce the idea that information has agency. Together, these questions about the source itself and the broader context in which the source exists help students come to a more holistic evaluation, and they are then prepared to share their understanding of each source’s credibility and appropriateness for use in different situations like sharing on social media or supporting a research topic. Students leave the workshop with a reference handout (see below) of the Source + Beyond the Source graphic along with an accompanying chart of focused questions to “ask” a source with potential answers.

As the information landscape rapidly evolves, new approaches to evaluating information are essential. This curriculum has provided DePaul librarians the opportunity to engage students in critical thinking and rich discussion around source evaluation. If you would like to learn more about Source + Beyond the Source or the DePaul University Library’s instructional services, please contact Firouzeh Rismiller, Instructional Services Librarian.

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