This week, the New York Times published an article called “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories” exploring how textbooks in the state of Texas tell the story of United States history versus how textbooks from the state of California do it. If you know anything about the politics in either of those states, there are some predictable differences.
As the article mentions, this isn’t a new thing. In fact, until very recently, I used the controversy surrounding a fourth grade textbook in Virginia as a case study in my information literacy courses. In that case, the textbook in question (which was called Our Virginia) included a number of egregious historical errors, like one about how slaves fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, something that’s not supported by historical evidence. When asked about the errors, the textbook author, who was not a historian, said that she based her writing on information she found on the internet. Information authored by a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
This was 2010, so the main reaction at the time was basically everyone laughing at this author for basing the research for her book on something she found on the internet. No one seemed to consider the possibility that the issue might be more complicated than that.
As an information literacy case study, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this example by asking students who they feel is most to blame for what happened: the textbook author, the publisher, the Board of Education that approved the book, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans for promoting a view of history that’s not supported by evidence. Their answers are revealing. Of course, a lot blame the author herself for not doing proper research. Others blame the publisher for not fact-checking thoroughly enough. Others feel that the Board of Education should have done more to vet the book before allowing it to be taught in classrooms.
Almost none blame the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
I picked Plot & Structure as the next item on my reading list because after revisiting the list of popular creative writing books on Goodreads, I spotted it in the top ten. It hadn’t been there when I started the original 10 books project, but it’s interesting to see the ways in which that list fluctuates over time so I thought it was worth taking a closer look.
In my last post, I talked about how, like most instruction librarians, when I teach students how to evaluate information, I used to rely heavily on tools like the CRAAP test to help students through the process. In some cases, particularly one-shot sessions where there may not be time to teach students the nuances of this process, I still do. If nothing else, they are a handy way to help students learn that they should be thinking about the quality of the sources they are using. And they fit well on a handout.
The CRAAP test and similar tools were (arguably) a good fit for Standards-based teaching, where the evaluation of information was an explicit learning outcome. But even before we traded the Standards for the Framework, a lot of librarians were dissatisfied with these tools because they oversimplified the evaluation process. The CRAAP test in particular seemed to mostly only apply to internet sources, giving students the false impression that these were the only types of sources that needed to be evaluated. Plus, they didn’t stop students from just choosing whatever came up first in their list of search results, regardless of whether it was clearly biased or too old.
These criticisms are particularly true when you take into account the contextual nature of research, as the Framework does. Currency, for example, is important for some research topics, like those based on technology or science, but less so for others, like history and literature. And that’s just within academic and scholarly research. There are also likely to be differences in how information is evaluated in professional, creative, and scientific contexts as well.
While I don’t have much flexibility with one-shot sessions, I wanted to start thinking about how to adapt my usual lessons on evaluating information to also get students to think about the contextual nature of research. It turns out, it didn’t need much tweaking.
You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on last year’s lists and write about it here.
Disclosure: I am currently a member of the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee, which selects and evaluates materials for the Selected Resources lists. I played a role in the selection process and reviewed several of the items that ended up on the final list as part of that process.
I was just starting out in libraries around the time that Eat, Pray, Love was the big thing everyone was reading in their book clubs. I remember picking up a copy of the book out of curiosity and also watching the movie but my reading amnesia is such that the only thing I remember from either version is the Eddie Vedder song “Better Days.”
I must have liked the book well enough though because I remember when Big Magic first came out, I immediately put it on reserve. I also remember reading the first fifty pages or so and thinking, “Yeah, this isn’t for me.” And that was before I got to the comment that implies a certain lack of glamor in being a writer asked to speak about libraries as part of a panel. Hmph.
But in my quest to expand my readings on creative writing and creativity in general, I happened to catch sight of this book on the library shelf (it’s hard to miss: the colors on the cover are very bright) and on a whim decided to pick it up again. This time I got all the way through it and I’m still pretty sure the book isn’t for me but I was interested to find that in between all the talk about creativity as a magical thing, there was also some talk about research.
Usually I use this space to talk about things related to my research or teaching but every now and then I have to lighten things up with a post about pop culture and there’s one that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.
It’s a movie called Girl Most Likely.
The following post contains spoilers for the plot of Girl Most Likely