Expanding Evaluation Strategies for Traditional and New Media Sources

Brief Description:

This exercise guides students through an evaluation process that can be applied to any source in any format. The evaluation is meant to be completed at least twice–first for a source the student has selected for the research paper assignment, and later in the semester for a source used for the multimodal assignment. After completing the second source evaluation, students compare their two experiences, analyzing different types of sources used for different purposes. This activity asks students to engage with standard evaluation strategies, such as identifying the credentials of a source creator, alongside emerging evaluation strategies, such as analyzing the steps taken to produce a work in a chosen format.

Primary Learning Outcome:

  • Question how and why a source was created when evaluating its relevance and usefulness for a project. (4.1)

Additional Learning Outcomes:

  • Compare the unique attributes of different information formats and describe the significance of using a particular format in a research project. (4.3)
  • Evaluate why information creators have authority to speak on a subject, recognizing that authority is earned in a variety of ways. (3.1)

Time Needed:

The evaluation strategies worksheet will take 45 minutes to an hour, and will be repeated at two points in the semester. The final reflection worksheet will take 15-20 minutes. Students will also benefit from in-class discussion following the reflection.


  • Evaluation Strategies Worksheet [Word] [PDF]
  • Reflection Questions [Word] [PDF]
  • Printable Activity Plan [Word] [PDF]


  1. Assign students the Evaluation Strategies Worksheet to complete for at least one source during the research process for the research paper.
  2. Later in the semester, assign the same worksheet again when students are collecting sources for the multimodal project. Students can be encouraged to reflect on a wide variety of source types, including images, video, or audio clips.
  3. Soon after students have completed the second evaluation, assign the reflection questions.
  4. If possible, follow the individual reflection questions with a class discussion addressing issues such as students’ preconceptions about evaluating sources they find online vs. through the library. Consider highlighting student examples of less standard evaluation strategies, such as visual design, feedback options, and creation process.

Multimedia Connections:

New Media is a broad term that encapsulates many types of digital media, including videos, podcasts, images, online newspapers, blogs, social media, online games, and more. A user-generated YouTube video may not hold the same weight as a TED Talk, and getting students to think about the reasons why is an important step towards opening their perceptions of new media as resources for academic projects. Furthermore, a source that may not be considered to have academic value could still prove useful for a creative, multimodal project. It is important for students to be able to evaluate all types of information sources and to understand how and when they may be used appropriately for different types of projects.

More Information:

The binary classification of scholarly vs. popular sources is entrenched in library instruction for composition courses, but it can be a dangerously limited mindset to encourage in our students. When students conceptualize these source labels in opposition to each other, they tend to accept “library sources” as credible without question, while feeling like they need to automatically distrust or obscure the “online sources” they use. In a study of first-year students’ descriptions of criteria they used to decide whether an article was scholarly or popular, librarians at the University of New Mexico found an unsurprising reliance on cues like the credentials of the author or the search tool used to access the source. They attributed these surface-level evaluation strategies to the heuristic of scholarly vs. popular, which gives a mental shortcut for source classification, but actually ends up misleading students with a false impression that a deeper, more nuanced evaluation of individual sources is unnecessary. Simultaneously engaging with traditional print-based information and emerging online information is extremely challenging, but students can be successful when they use evaluation strategies that help them think critically about how and why the information was created before assigning it a label.

Jankowski, Amy, et al. “‘It was Information Based’: Student Reasoning When Distinguishing Between Scholarly and Popular Sources.” In the Library with the Lead Pipe: An Open Access, Open Peer Reviewed Journal, 16 May 2018, http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/it-was-information-based. Accessed 6 Aug. 2018.

Questions about this activity? Contact Amanda McCollom and Lauren Wallis.

Creative Commons BY-NC-SAExpanding Evaluation Strategies for Traditional and New Media Sources by Amanda McCollom and Lauren Wallis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.