Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lesson Idea for Evaluating Resources

I've been a fan of Mignon Fogerty's Grammar Girl podcast for a couple of years now. It's the perfect podcast to keep you fresh and up-to-date on grammar controversies. It's short, sweet, and very well-researched/well-argued.

Yesterday's episode was quite germane to those of us who teach academic writing because it was about how to evaluate the credibility of your resources. In this episode, Fogerty talks about a link that she was sent by one of her listeners: Grammar Sticklers May Have OCD. The link discusses an article being published in Journal of Syntatic Cognition that people who go around correcting other people's grammar mistakes are suffering from a genetic disorder known as Grammatical Pedantry Syndrome. The link has a lot of markers to suggest that it's credible:
  • --It's published on a blog that is hosted on the University of Illinois's website
  • --The author, Dennis Baron, is a legitimate professor of English and Linguistics
  • --It cites its sources (The Journal of Syntatic Cognition)
  • --And it has a lot of other markers of a scholarly blog: formal citations, the use of fairly technical language, fancy brain imaging diagrams, etc.
The problem? It's a total hoax. If you read the article closely, there's a lot of subtle signals that it is a work of satire. For example, one of the researchers is named "Hi Ding Lo" (hiding low).

Grammar Girl goes through and discusses in-depth all of the ways she was able to verify that it was a hoax (such as Googling the journal name to find out it didn't exist).

I think it might be a fun activity to give the students the link and have them work in groups to decide whether they think it is credible or not and why. You could introduce it as being a fairly benign activity in which you are getting them to apply the concepts you've taught in class about evaluating resources.

My guess is that most of them will determine that it is credible for all of the reasons that I mentioned earlier. Then, you could play the Grammar Girl episode for them to help them realize they need to be a little more media-savvy and skeptical. Nobody likes feeling duped and so this will be a good lesson in the importance of using credible sources.

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