Explore potential strategies.
Students lack an important component of critical thinking: how to select and evaluate resources.
When students need information, they often do a Google search and simply select the top "hit" – regardless of where it came from. Or students may privilege personal experience and anecdote in a discipline where other resources are given much more authority. Instructors are often frustrated by students' failure to appreciate what evidence should – and should not – get credence. The problem is often that students simply do not know how to make such judgments or even that they need to do so. This is not so surprising when we consider that (1) most students know nothing about the knowledge-production process that goes behind producing, say, a journal article as compared to an ordinary web page, and (2) our own practices – e.g., when we are willing to use sources of different kinds and how we know what sources are authoritative – may be more complex and subtle than we realize. (If your situation goes beyond students' difficulty evaluating resources, see the teaching problem "students don’t know how to do research.")
Direct students to information-literacy resources. There are various resources already available that you can use to help your students learn how to evaluate sources. Just to name a few, the University Libraries offer relevant materials and the Computing at Carnegie Mellon course has a section on evaluating sources. Liaison librarians are also available to help. Once you find the resources that best fit your and your students' needs, you can direct your students to appropriate help.
When students are beginning to learn to evaluate sources in your discipline, they may not know what is involved. You can give students a guide for how they should go about evaluating sources (and then give them some sample resources to evaluate for practice). Or if you have several factors that you want students to keep in mind as they evaluate sources (e.g., relevance, credibility, timeliness), share your list of factors – even in the form of a checklist – and explain each one so that students can follow your disciplinary practice. Then, when you assign students tasks that involve research, you can remind students to follow these procedures and/or articulate requirements for the kinds of sources they should be using.
The more students can get practice and targeted feedback on evaluating sources, the better they will be at this particular skill. For example, you could give students a set of resources and ask them to evaluate each (justifying their evaluation). This could launch a class discussion on the variety of considerations in selecting resources and an explicit emphasis of the considerations you want students to keep in mind for your course. Alternatively, you could have students evaluate various resources in small groups and then present their assessments to the class. Either way, students will benefit from getting focused practice at this key skill with peer and/or instructor feedback on how they are doing. As students develop their skills in this area, you can ask them to evaluate sources relative to a particular context (e.g., research question, time period, literature) so they get more authentic practice.
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