A Schema-Based Approach to Evaluating Information

How many of you use tools like the CRAAP test to teach students how to evaluate information? I have too, and even developed my own version at one point. There is a problem with the CRAAP test and similar tools though–they use a broad set of criteria to apply to any type of source, which really doesn’t do much more than promote procedural thinking about information. I liken it to the keyword approach to teaching word problems in math–it’s a horrible method because there are way too many exceptions to the rules and students never really learn to solve problems, only apply procedures. Bottom line, trying to simplify a student’s interpretation down to a set of keywords or criteria that can be applied to any type of problem (math or information) is moderately effective at best.

A better approach? Schema-based instruction.

Schema-based instruction is a method for teaching word problem-solving in math that has been proven much more effective than the keyword approach, especially for students with learning differences. But it is an effective method for all students (why it’s not taught more is a puzzle). Students learn how to identify word problem types first, then use an appropriately tailored strategy for solving each different type of problem. In a nutshell, it works.

I think this is an excellent approach for evaluating information as well. By first having students identify what type of information they are looking at, and then having them use a specific evaluation strategy for that type of source, students may be more likely to achieve a greater level of information literacy. I think it may also improve their appetite for better quality information (not just whatever pops up in Google). Another benefit of this approach? It supports metacognitive thinking.

For example, providing students with a graphic organizer as a scaffolding tool will help them identify and begin to differentiate between types of sources. This will teach them to look at information from a schema perspective rather than looking at all information as the same (thus, thinking more like a librarian).











An even better approach would be to have students identify the differences on their own (with guidance of course), and then construct their own graphic organizers that they can use as tools. Strategies for evaluating each type of source can then be further developed and dissected as students enter the upper-level courses in their majors.

The schema-based approach to evaluating information is more in line with the new ACRL standards than old standbys like the CRAAP test. It’s time to go beyond procedural thinking to support students’ metacognitive thinking about information practices.


3 thoughts on “A Schema-Based Approach to Evaluating Information

  1. Dear Amanda,

    I found this post fascinating. I am a currently getting my masters in instructional design and technology and a bit new to the field. There is an article in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning called “Schema-Based Learning (Lee, JungMi, and Norbert M. Seel. “Schema-Based Learning.” Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer US, 2012. pp. 2946-2949).

    In this article they talk about coherence. “coherence is a measure of the congruence between the result of an interaction with the environment and the expectations the agent has for that interaction.” What this means to me is that your schema has to have some kind of feedback the way CRAAP does to evaluate your source. CRAAP gives you a score to measure whether you have successfully identified a scholarly reference for your work. When you use schema based learning in math the feedback loop is whether you get the right answer in the end. The next step in my mind is what would be the feedback or coherence measurement in a schema based resource evaluation? While CRAAP gives you a number to reference, how does a schema based student know they are successful?

    The great thing about schema based learning is that it enables the student to categorize new information and resources they may study (I currently get most of my information from our textbook, Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson). Perhaps there is a CRAAP teaching schema that could be constructed to go along with the CRAAP procedural worksheet that would expose hierarchies along the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy and purpose categories that would allow students to expand on these areas and use the schema to help them search for new resources?

    Thank you,


    • CRAAP is a mnemonic that helps students remember a basic set of criteria for evaluating general information. The scoring rubrics that often go with CRAAP don’t provide feedback so much as guidance. There is no such thing as a correct score on the CRAAP test. It’s subjective. The feedback comes from the instructor, and if it matches the student’s approximate score consistently, then you can argue that the student has learned the general rules of evaluating information. Because CRAAP is a scaffolding tool, it is eventually dropped altogether.

      I see the CRAAP test as a good foundation for introducing students to the concept of evaluating information. But that takes place in secondary school. By college, the expectation is that students understand that information comes in a variety of forms, and that evaluating information requires more advanced thinking. As a part of the schema-based approach, a modified CRAAP test for each type of source is certainly feasible–including rubrics if desired. However, the level of reasoning skills required to evaluate different types of sources ultimately comes from participating in an information community of practice.

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