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Teaching Information Literacy: Authority

A guide to assist instructors in incorporating information literacy concepts and assignments into their teaching

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

"Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required." (From: ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education)

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Learner Goals

  • develop and maintain an open mind when encountering varied and sometimes conflicting perspectives;
  • motivate themselves to find authoritative sources, recognizing that authority may be conferred or manifested in unexpected ways;
  • develop awareness of the importance of assessing content with a skeptical stance and with a self-awareness of their own biases and worldview;
  • question traditional notions of granting authority and recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews;
  • are conscious that maintaining these attitudes and actions requires frequent self-evaluation.

(From: ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education)

Learner Practices

  • define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event);
  • use research tools and indicators of authority to determine the credibility of sources, understanding the elements that might temper this credibility;
  • understand that many disciplines have acknowledged authorities in the sense of well-known scholars and publications that are widely considered “standard,” and yet, even in those situations, some scholars would challenge the authority of those sources;
  • recognize that authoritative content may be packaged formally or informally and may include sources of all media types;
  • acknowledge they are developing their own authoritative voices in a particular area and recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability, respecting intellectual property, and participating in communities of practice;
  • understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time.

(From: ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education)

Example Lessons, Assignments, and Activities

This is a writing prompt for a short assignment developed by Cristy Moran.. The prompt can be adapted to fit different non-writing performance tasks, however, including discussion or in-class individual/ small group activities. Students are provided a scenario wherein they must research the names of experts quoted in different online news articles. They must show that they have researched the "expert." 

The Question Authority lesson from Joelle Pitts is mapped to the Authority is Constructed and Contextual Frame.  The lesson introduces the concept of authority in the research process, that it is constructed and contextual, and that the authority sought changes based on the research question. Criteria for evaluating authority are discussed, as is the idea that not all voices are represented in authoritative conversations.

In this workshop developed by Kim Pittman, students learn about the driving forces behind fake news, reflect on how our opinions impact the way we evaluate information, and discuss and practice using criteria for evaluating news. The workshop includes a brief presentation on fake news and cognitive biases, reflection prompts for students to respond to, and an activity in which students work in groups to evaluate different news articles on a common topic.

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