It's time to upgrade our CRAAP detectors

Mike Caulfield’s long post about digital literacy has been getting some attention, as it should.  He thoughtfully tests some digital literacy tools against real world problems.  Caulfield also mixes in the Stanford study (my notes here).  Read the whole thing, as we say in the blogosphere.  It’s worth it.

I’d like to add a few reactions and expansions, as part of my recent return to digital literacy.

“Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” has two key recommendations.  The second one (forgive me for going in reverse order) is that any digital literacy has to involve actually… using the web.  As one of his bold headers puts it,

To Gain Web Literacy You Have to Learn the Web

As Gardner Campbell, myself, and others have been saying for a while, education still has a hard time actually using the web.  We don’t embrace hyperlinks, we don’t support authoring on the open web, etc.  Caulfield joins us in this attitude, and takes it to information literacy by arguing that users should Google search for more information when running into problematic content.  They could actually click on hyperlinks.  They could even – gasp! – use Wikipedia.

Caulfield’s research example involves checking Wikipedia version changes, using Snopes, and relying on multiple Google search hits for context.  In short, “we… want… concrete web research methods and well-known markers of information quality on the web.”

Like Mike, I’m struck by the way half of the Stanford study’s students didn’t click on a link.  Why is this?  Are they terrified of malware?  Have mobile apps deskilled them from using the web?

The other big idea in Caulfield’s post is domain expertise.  That means students have to know something about the content area they’re researching.  This is obviously tricky for younger students as well as people new to a given domain.

That’s why many information literacy/fluency projects weren’t just in the library, but embedded within specific classes.  When I ran an info lit initiative at Centenary College, it was imperative to see students learning these basic principles within their classes.  I saw many other projects where students studied how different disciplines constructed meaning, and learned each field’s research tools.

This came up in the NMC report I co-authored last year.  In a passage no critic seems to have grasped, we argued for three possible ways digital literacy could unfold, including a mode embedded within specific academic domains.


Some details:

Rather than assigning the topic to a single institutional unit (e.g., the campus library), digital literacy as curriculum is diffused throughout different classes in appropriate ways that are unique to each learning context. Computer science and digital media classes can instruct on everything from office productivity applications to programming and video editing, for example. Sociology courses can teach interpersonal actions online, such as the ethics and politics of social network interaction, while psychology and business classes can focus on computer-mediated human interaction. Government and political science classes are clearly well equipped to explore the intersection of digital technology and citizenship mentioned above.

I’d like to offer one more point in addition to Caulfield’s, and it’s one that links to something I’m very passionate about: students as makers on the web.  As far as I can tell, many information/digital literacy efforts assume students/users/patrons/researchers work in isolation.  They consult the web and pick a site or document to use.

This seems to fly in the face of how people actually use the web, especially away from learning management systems.  We love to share!  We email stories to friends.  We post them on Facebook.  We pin them on Pinterest.  One reason for doing so is fact checking.  By sharing we invite commentary, feedback, reality checking, and outright opposition.  This can lead to echo chambers of like-minded people, as well as to networks where people improve their understanding.

I see this every day, literally, on Facebook and Twitter.  Someone shares a story and gets pushback.  “Did you check the date?”  “Have you looked on Snopes?”  “You know, the Washington Times isn’t the best source.”  “That’s propaganda.”  “It misreads the data.”  And so on.  Like I said, this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as people can resist such feedback.  But it can also be a way to improve our understanding.

This is how I have lived online for more than a decade.  It’s how I do my research.  I constantly share content that I have questions about, seeking clarification.  It can run the risk of embarrassment, naturally.  And some people will give feedback with, shall we say, alacrity.  Overall, it’s made me a better researcher, writer, thinker, speaker, and community member.  FTTE is ten times richer than it would have been had I note done this.

It’s also a way of living on the web, linking back to my first point.

How can digital literacy account for this practice?

Learners as makers, the importance of domain knowledge, researchers acting socially – what else did you find in Caulfield’s piece?


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7 Responses to It's time to upgrade our CRAAP detectors

  1. Brett says:

    This is definitely a conversation we need to keep having, and Caulfield’s post does an excellent job giving us some specific examples of why it’s important. Why *don’t* they click the link?

    One problem that, honestly, may be simply endemic to use of the web, is the extent to which specific knowledge is rooted in a question of whom to trust as a source. For example, when a person has come to the conclusion that Snopes is “historically a good site to resolve hoaxes,” this may function as knowledge in the way Caulfield describes, but it is much more like valuable residue of many distinct judgments made over the course of weeks, months, or even years, than it is like a black-and-white fact. If we short-circuit that process of judgment for our students in the genuine pursuit of helping them, we risk creating too forceful a link to us as individuals (their teachers) and our own preferences instead of showing them a path down which they can explore themselves.

    This is a problem the internet was, in some ways, created to solve: is there a way to share knowledge without it being filtered through publishers’ ideas of what counts as good knowledge? What Caulfield’s post, and surely much of the fake-news-etched culture we’re finding ourselves so troubled by today, bring into relief is how ultimately important some system of vetting of sources still is for each of us, even if that system is much less reliant on modernist ideas of universals.

    • Brilliant point, Brett.
      It’s something the Horton/Freire reading was discussing: how to help learners own their own learning and knowledge, without our getting in the way, or not doing anything at all.

      • Brett says:

        Yes. I haven’t read it yet, but I wonder what they would think about the availability of the internet/web for learning. Did that come up in the discussions?

  2. mikecaulfield says:

    Thanks Bryan — I should post a bit more about what we’re doing with the Digital Polarization Project. We chose wiki for just this reason — we see this process as one that benefits both from collaboration and from discourse. I believe it could also benefit from the wiki mindset. Don’t make arguments, summarize community knowledge and expert consensus. When people summarize and synthesize instead of engaging in “critical thinking” the way that they are taught it, they often are much better thinkers.

    On the “Why don’t they click the link?” question, I got contacted by one of that study’s authors — Sam Wineburg — after I put it up. And part of it was they were being “critical thinkers” — looking at stuff and thinking. This is a generation being taught “close reading” by Common Core, which is the precise opposite of what you need in the world of the web. Wineburg calls these “vertical” strategies, in comparison to the “lateral reading” the web actually requires. Which warms my heart, because lateral reading is really very hypertext.

    I’ve put together a document for DIgiPo — not complete, but you may find it interesting.

    • This is great, Mike! Lots of useful detail here. 🙂 How open is this to suggestions/comments from others?

      For example, I’m offering a Persuasive Media course that starts tomorrow, and I could see a document like this being very useful for us in that course as not only a tool for actually deepening our web literacy, but also even as an example of a certain kind of “digital rhetoric” in the way it invites its reader to understand the concept of “literacy” as grounded in a context.

  3. Pingback: A Student Powered Snopes: Building Digital Literacy with the Digital Polarization Initiative - Digital Pedagogy@Austin College

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