I came across this helpful article on ‘Helping Students Become 21st-Century “Crap Detectors” ‘ over on the Touro College Learning and Teaching Exchange blog written by Dennis Urban.
The immediacy and prevalence of online sources in modern classrooms mean that many of our law students are more inclined to use Google as a research tool than the curated (and often very expensive) research tools that our libraries make available. For law students who might become lawyers, this is incredibly concerning – especially when a client is going to be entirely reliant not only on the accuracy of the advice they provide but also their ability to sort and sift ‘crap’.
Preaching abstinence from online sources, especially for law students pressed for time, is hardly a realistic option. We also tend to assume that they will read online sources especially when we set assessments on, for example, the social and political perspectives on the law. Contemporary online commentary from a range of different sources – from the sensible to the extreme – can provide some interesting perspectives on the way the wider community see lawyers and the law. Instead, we need to think about some prophylactic measures to support law students as they engage with these types of information sources.
I have run lessons on how to read online materials to determine their accuracy, trustworthiness or authority, with a dose of ‘everything you read might be useful, depending on what you are researching’. But I wasn’t aware of this incredibly helpful guide published by the California State University, Chico.
The CRAAP test (which is both an acronym and a very clever way of getting law students to remember it) asks law students to assess a source’s Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority and Purpose (hence CRAAP) with some associated sub-questions.
On the surface, it might look like commonsense, especially to the cynical and jaded law school professor. But, as a means of scaffolding law students’ understanding, it can provide an invaluable tool.
If you use is, or are using it, I would love to hear how it works!