Thursday, March 17, 2011

Information Literacy and Critical Thinking Exercises: Cracked Edition

I’ve come up with a new exercise to be done after going over basic information literacy skills and determining that the students are ready to take on a more difficult task. is a fun, yet often frightening, place full of sarcasm, crude humor, descriptions of violence, and cussing.  It’s a great place to practice info lit and critical thinking skills, but use caution.  If I assigned an exercise like this at the local community college, I’d get complaints at the least (mostly due to the cussing).  Of course, evolution, climate change, and thought provoking literature also results in complaints at that place (true story-apparently The Secret Life of Bees is heretical and unfit for the classroom and Persepolis is of the devil-who knew?).  So, you may want to alter this exercise, depending on where you’re located. is a humorous website.  It is in no way a scholarly resource.  However, this website can also be rather informative if, and only if, we fact-check the authors’ claims and analyze the resources used in the articles.

Most of the articles on Cracked are written in a countdown format (top ten…, the worst seven…, five great…, etc.).  This allows some flexibility for instructors with this assignment.

The basic assignment will have students checking the links/resources provided in the article(s).  They need to vet the links provided using the skills they’ve developed in class.  Students should also provide additional resources outside of those provided in the article(s).  This encourages fact-checking and instills the habit of utilizing multiple resources.

Assignment #1
Select an article (in numbered/countdown format) from (instructors are encouraged to provide a selection to simplify the selection and grading process-Examples here, here, and here).  Choose only one section of the article to work with.

Read your chosen section carefully.  Summarize and ask questions in your journal.  Write down comments and pay attention to fact versus opinion.

Follow the link or links provided as evidence.  Are these sources valid, relevant, up-to-date, etc?  Analyze the links and determine if the sources are credible or not. 
After vetting the provided resources, find additional resources either backing up or refuting the article’s claims.  Analyze your resources for credibility.

Paper (research based but may be considered with an exploratory slant) or Presentation (PowerPoint is always an option) should include the following:
·       Provide an overall summary of your chosen article-focusing on your chosen section.
·       Discuss your findings concerning the links
·       Discuss your additional resources
·       Critique your article section based on your research.  Were the ideas presented in the article actually facts?  Remember, don’t confuse opinions, humor, and sarcasm as hard facts.
·       Conclude with what you’ve discovered through this exercise and with any comments on the Cracked humor/info format.

Assignment #2
This is the same as assignment #1, except the student should work with a full article instead of one section.  This might be an interesting final assignment for a credit based information literacy class.

Assignment #3
This is the same as assignment #2.  However, have the students work in groups (the number of group members to be determined by the number of article sections).  Each group member is responsible for one section (as in assignment #1).  However, the final paper/presentation should be a collaborative effort with group members reviewing and checking other members’ progress.

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