Posted by: Emily | February 18, 2009

Evaluating sources exercises

So I’ve got one of these two-session library instruction gigs coming up for one of our Core Seminar sections, a class required for all students at my place of business. The students will be working on research papers. I met with the faculty member yesterday, and went a little runny at the mouth. She asked what I thought might be useful in the second session and I suggested something about how to evaluate sources and determine whether they are relevant for your paper or not. She jumped on it. I want to know how to do that too!

So. How do I do that? I’d like to steer clear of the library resources are always authoritative approach because I’ve got–what do the kids say these days?–hella problems with that kind of top down, uncritical pronouncement. Information is useful only in context, and as contexts change, so does my evaluation of the usefulness of a given source. What kind of assignment can I use to get to that point with these students I’ll see exactly two times for 75 minutes each session? And would you put the evaluating sources lesson in the first session or the second?



  1. Not being an instruction librarian, please take this with a grain or two of salt, but I’d get them started evaluating sources from the first. Let the “in context” thing drive everything. If they can remember how to evaluate resources, they won’t necessarily need to remember all the particulars about this or that specific resource.

  2. *raises hand* Me me me! I have an idea! There’s an activity I do that was inspired by Troy Swanson’s article in portal from 2004. (I actually refer to it in my chapter!)

    So, basically, I have a handful of sources all on the same topic, more or less, but the sources live in all different formats and contexts and purposes and so on. So they look at the sources and have to answer questions about them, such as: what is this information source? what is its purpose? and how can we determine these things? And then once we have that discussion, they look at six different research scenarios I made, and I ask them to match up the sources to the information need.

    You can see it all here:

    What do you think?

  3. Huh. I wonder why that was rattling around in my brain! Ha ha! (I am so opaque to myself…)

    Great idea, and will totally try this one out. But do you think I do this exercise first session or second session? I was planning to use the first session to look at how to take a big topic and break it up into parts, using this classroom exercise I half-yoinked from our wonderful health sciences librarian and then cut to fit. But does that make sense now? Or evaluating need in the first session?

  4. I do that exercise in the first session, which is also a 75 minute session. Then, in the second 75 minute session (this is for the two-part class I do for honors classes), I do that student-led demo thing. I’ve done that activity with a shared topic, and I’ve also done it with students selecting their own topics. I’ll share both of them with you on googleydocs.

    It makes sense for me to the source evaluation activity in the first session, because, in theory, it gets them thinking about how to think about information and evaluate it in various contexts, and then they apply those skills in a more concrete and hands-on way in the second session activity. Does that make sense?

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