February 24, 2016

Help students evaluate sources with the CRAP test

Posted by Laura Guertin

I can’t emphasize enough how much I have learned from connecting with my campus librarians. They have access to incredible resources and tools that have helped me work towards my overarching course goal and secondary course objectives. There is one item I was introduced to a couple of years ago that I use every semester with students – and with student feedback, such as “where has this tool been my entire undergraduate career?!?”, I’ll continue to use the CRAP test in all of my introductory-level courses.

I require my students to search out and explore current news stories relating to Earth science (or water science, or paleontology… whatever the focus is of the course). However, as we know (and as students are aware), anyone can publish ANYTHING online. As students search the internet, how can I as an instructor make sure students know the content they are coming across is trustworthy?

Slide1Enter… the CRAP test.

There are several versions of the CRAP test online, all very similar in their style and questions under each of the main categories (this is the worksheet I have students complete). With a website or article in front of them, students are challenged to evaluate the source they are considering to use for academic work.

  • C = Currency = When was the source written? published? updated? Was it published near the date of the original event/discovery?
  • R = Reliability/Relevance = Is the information still relevant today? Who is the intended audience for the source? Are there links to other articles/sites within the source? If so, how many? Is is a primary or secondary source? Was it peer reviewed?
  • A = Authority/Audience = Who is the author of the source? What are the credentials/reputation of the publishing source? How do you know the author is an expert? What are his/her or the organization’s credentials? Google the author/institution. Was the source written with any bias?
  • P = Purpose/Point of View = Why was this source published? Is it intended to persuade or inform? Is the source for the general public, scholars, first-year students, etc.? Are there advertisements attached to the source, and if so, what purpose do they serve? Is this a first-hand account of an event or research?
  • And then, the bottom line…. can/should this article be used for a college-level assignment (yes/no)

I have one of the librarians come to my class (we hold the class in a computer lab, but it could be done in a regular classroom) and review the CRAP test, and review some example websites. We start with ones such as All About Explorers – Christopher Columbus, The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, Dihydrogen Monoxide, etc. (trust me, there are several like these out there, and you’ll get a good laugh out of seeing how well these sites are developed!). I then provide the students links to two additional online articles that they review and complete the CRAP worksheet. Then we discuss as a class where to find the responses to the CRAP test questions.

I am really pleased to see my students using much better quality sources than what I had been seeing in previous semesters. And librarians go above-and-beyond with their passion for the CRAP test, too! There are even YouTube videos (one exploring websites, one an original song) literally singing its praises.

One important take-home message I can share about the CRAP test is making sure students receive several introductions to the CRAP test in one semester and in more than one course. Like anything else we teach students, the more practice they receive with the tool, the stronger their skills become.


Additional sources for exploration

Clements, N., & L. Guertin. (2016). Science literacy meets information literacy – Using Zotero as a teaching tool. College & Research Libraries News, 77(1): 14-16. (Article online)

Kadavy, C., & K. Chuppa-Cornell. (2011). A Personal Touch: Embedding Library Faculty into Online English 102. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 39(1): 63-77. (Abstract online)

Knott, D., & K. Szabo. (2013). Bigfoot hunting – Academic library outreach to elementary school students. College & Research Libraries News, 74(7): 346-348. (Article online)

Martin, J.A., Reame, K.M., Reeves, E.M., Wright, R.D. (2012) Relationship building with students and instructors of ESL: Bridging the gap for library instruction and services. Reference Services Review, 40(3): 352 – 367. (Abstract online)