We have started color coding the entries in the reading list – red, yellow and green.
Red means find a different reading. This could be because someone else got it first, or because it didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Green means the reading looks good.
Yellow is a caution. Many of the yellows are coming from sources geared towards general audiences, rather than sources for research and study. It doesn’t mean the readings can’t be used.
When you write your summaries, you should also put in a short statement of justification, explaining why you considered it a good reading to bring to the class. If the reading is marked in yellow, give this step some extra attention.
I consider the five points of the CRAAP test when I look at the readings:
Currency: Is it up to date? Does it need to be? A 1999 article on the early history of the Internet may be as good as one from last year. But we should also keep in mind that it misses the last 15 years of Internet history. On the other hand, things change quickly. A 5 year old news article on online dating sites is probably out of date. If it were a sociological study of the impact of online dating it could be relevant today.
Relevance: Subject-wise, relevance is pretty obvious. We also have to think about audience relevance. A PhD level technical paper on advanced mobile web technology might be over our heads. A site about the web aimed at middle schoolers is probably beneath our level.
Authority: Who wrote it, and why should we listen to them? This is where news and other popular media sources are questionable, because the authors tend to be generalists, not experts. An interview with an expert would have a bit more authority, however. Web sources are even more questionable, they sometimes do not even list authors.
Accuracy: This can be hard to judge if we’re novices. One thing to look for is a reference list. Does the article give evidence to support what it says? And if we are confident in the currency, authority and purpose, we could feel good about an articles accuracy.
Purpose: Why was the article written. What is the author/publisher trying to accomplish? Popular media is mostly advertising-driven. The ultimate purpose is to connect ads to eyeballs, and to hold the reader’s attention. Academic journals are written for research and study. They put abstracts right up front so you can know in a paragraph whether it’s worth your time to read further.
Popular and general interest sources are useable though. As an example, I found an article in a newspaper that talked about the NSA and internet governance with a couple of the pioneers who helped build the internet. I thought about making it a required reading, but held off in case someone else decides to use it. As a newspaper article, I’d give a yellow light right off the bat. But it’s current, and something like the NSA controversy is so current that it will mainly be addressed in news sources. It gives a lot of names of people and organizations involved in Internet development and governance, so I could use it as a starting point to find further information. It also links to some of the organizations. And it interviews experts, so their authority adds to the author’s. So even though it’s just a news article, it is something we can learn from.