thing 5: Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Recommended Resources, Readings, and Examples

Lenker, M. (2016). Motivated Reasoning, Political Information, and Information Literacy Education. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(3), 511-528.

Williams, K. (2017). When Information Professions Collide: Applying the ACRL’s Framework to News Media Consumption. Hack Library School

Choose Your Own Adventure Activity

Select one of the following activities to complete:

  1. Locate an example of an article or lesson plan that describes an approach to teaching using the frame Authority is Constructed and Contextual. In a comment, post a link to the article or lesson plan (or a citation if paywalled) along with a short summary of what you read. How could you adapt or build upon this approach at your own institution?
  2. Drawing inspiration from one of the recommended readings, draft your own lesson plan related to the frame Authority is Constructed and Contextual. Upload your lesson plan to Project CORA and/or the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox, and post a link to it in a comment.


  1. I looked at the University of Missouri’s “Perspectives on the ACRL Framework, Comparing Standards, and Creating Learning Activities for Information Literacy: Creating and Modifying Lesson Plans with the Framework” at .

    Their section on Authority is Constructed and Contextual includes a lesson on using a Works Cited page to teach students about this frame. The lesson is for students to do an annotated bibliography in which students will write/discuss how they will use the sources and include several sources they would not use and why. This starts the students thinking about evaluating their sources.

    I would actually have them specifically look at the authors of the sources in their annotated bibliography. For the sources they want to use, I would ask them to write about what kind of authority the author has and why they think the author is credible. For sources they don’t think will be useful, I will have them answer why they think this and if credibility of the author was a factor in their decision.


  2. I looked at The New York Times’ “Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News” at While not scholarly, I really liked the variety of information included here, and since we are developing a for-credit course on “fake news” I think some of these suggestions will be useful.

    There were a lot of links out to other good sources like the New Literacy Project or the MOOC Making Sense of the News. I also liked that it included specific examples to use with students, tools students can use to evaluate news, and multi-media items to keep students engaged. I also like that there is a supplement for ELL students at

    I particularly like the idea of an activity where students try to trace the original source of a story, and where they keep track of their own news consumption for a week. I think it is really important not only to develop specific skills like tracking a source, but also to get students to think critically about their own news consumption and how/why they use the sources that they do. I have also thought about asking students to create their own media bias chart (such as and be prepared to discuss and explain how they made the choices that they did. I could see combining these two activities over a couple of weeks. First have students track their own media usage, then ask them to do a media bias chart. Then, ask them to look at the two activities and think about how they might change their own media consumption practices after creating the media bias chart.


  3. Duque, G., Oehrli, J. A., Peters, A., & Stark, A. (2017). Questioning authority: An exploration of diverse sources. LOEX Quarterly, 43(4), pp. 7-9, 16. Retrieved from

    This lesson resonated with me for reasons:

    1. It can be adapted to many topics, even those that are less directly political. Lenker (2016) focuses on political information, and Williams (2017) starts her piece by mentioning the 2016 election. Yes, political information is important. Yes, most questions have some political dimension. Still, don’t we want to practice critical thinking across the board? I also think that examples speaking to a discipline might show students how information literacy relates to their field.

    2. It uses diverse sources. Students need exposure to diverse source types. These are the sources they’ll be using in their lives after graduation. With source types evolving we can show that even we need to practice our critical thinking skills, as Williams (2017) implies.

    3. It uses a community-based example. Students can relate to an issue that affects their community. They can even bring their firsthand background knowledge to bear on the discussions, which can lead to further discussions of authority.

    I’ll close with a true story of this last point. When I was living in Boston, a paper there did a piece about something in my hometown. As someone from Lewiston I knew what was incorrect and/or missing. Interestingly enough my letter to the editor was published with the most important point edited out. My inside knowledge came up against editorial control.



  4. I chose the lesson “Authority is Contextual and Constructed: Class Discussion of Authorship” from the Project CORA website. file:///C:/Users/b.e.scheibel/Desktop/Lessons/Authority%20is%20Contextual%20and%20Constructed%202.pdf
    Comparing the blog and the journal article, with the discussion, is simple and provides a great contrast to different types of information. The examples and potential discussion questions were great springboards. I also will use the Project Cora and ACRL Information Literacy Sandbox for future inspiration.


  5. I found a lesson plan about evaluating sources titled “What’s a ‘reliable’ source?” from Kelly Grossmann: for the frame “Authority is constructed and contextual.” The topic was engaging, about the environmental impact of neonicotinoid pesticides and legislation on its use or disuse. The student is working for a legislator and is asked to find research so it seems like a probable situation. Working in pairs, each students reads one of the selected articles and fills out a chart that asks about currency, peer review publications, peer review articles, as well as author credentials. From this activity they are given a set of questions for discussion that ask for further evidence for their evaluation and approval or disapproval of an article for their purposes.

    This seems like a great way to engage students in finding out about authority and who decides on the validity of an authority. It’s fairly quick for students to go through this assignment and it can even be done prior to a class session with the discussion during class or adapted for online classes with a forum discussion/comments format. It makes a good point about how we make decisions, what they are or are not based on, and to look critically at the authorship of what we are reading. I would definitely use the structure of this assignment but then I got to thinking about looking up the articles for each pair of students and it seems like it could a quite a bit of work for the librarian at the start but I’m willing to give this lesson a try as another way to help students understand this frame.


  6. Here is the link: You should have landed on the third tab of the guide: “Creating and Modifying Lesson Plans with the Framework.” Locate the box titled “Authority is Constructed and Contextual.” The first suggestion is a Works Cited Project.

    This suggestion resonated with me, because many of my one-shot instructions are done in Comp 1 and Comp 2 classes, where students are required to generate Works Cited lists to accompany their essays and research papers. After talking with several of the faculty who regularly ask for one-shot instructions, this frame – Authority is Constructed and Contextual – is not the most important one for them. However, within the context of identifying sources and building a Works Cited list, I could naturally teach the concepts of this frame to the Comp 1 & 2 students. This is an idea I may broach with my English faculty.


  7. I selected the Scholarly Article Autopsy By Krista Bowers Sharpe at
    I really like this idea for illustrating that authority is constructed and contextual. Students break into small groups and examine features of selected scholarly articles. They then present their findings to the entire class and compare the article to a selected non-scholarly article in the same subject area. The subject was sociology but this could be adapted to my subject area in the health sciences. I can immediately think of several examples from my recent experience. For a nursing student doing an evidence-based practice project, a scholarly journal might be more appropriate, but for a parent, an article in a lay magazine or MedlinePlus might be more suitable. One is not necessarily better or worse, but they might be used in different contexts for different needs. Our School of Nursing already has a lesson on this topic, so I don’t think they would ask me to teach on this, but this is a good lesson plan for a beginning-level class. For a non-scholarly journal one could substitute an informational website such as MedlinePlus or an article in a subject encyclopedia. This would be an excellent lesson for an online research class — group members could use Google Hangout and report back to the class on an online discussion board.


  8. I explored Authority and Source Evaluation in the Critical Library Classroom, a lesson developed by Eamon Twell and Katelyn Angell, librarians at at LIU Brooklyn. The goals of this particular lesson are to 1. “consider how authority operates in a classroom” and 2. For students to reflect and analyze authority and what role authority plays in evaluating information sources. Small groups are created and then asked to find, evaluate, and compare different information sources on chosen topics. Then a conversation about how authority in academia may marginalize those outside of academia is had as a class.

    I think this lesson is very adaptable to information literacy/research workshops if time is alloted. This way students have the chance to critically engage with information that they are accessing it. I think it is important for students to learn that we are all producers of information and knowledge, and that in certain areas the may be the experts. Acknowledging that they have a voice in the scholarly conversation is crucial to making research (whether it be low or high stakes) an important part of their lives inside and outside of academia.

    Tewell, Eamon and Angell, Katelyn . Authority and Source Evaluation in the Critical Library Classroom., 2016 In: Critical Library Pedagogy Handbook, vol. 2. ACRL Press, pp. 49-57. [Book chapter]


  9. I explored Project CORA and chose an activity developed by Jennifer Masunaga, a reference librarian at Loyola Marymount University, called “Authority is Contextual and Constructed: Class Discussion of Authorship.” The activity is meant “to get students to understand scholarly communication as a dialogue between peers and that the work of an authority can take many forms.” In the activity, students are asked to read and discuss excerpts from two different information types on the same topic and written by the same author – i.e. a blog post and an article published in a peer-reviewed journal written by the same author. Without revealing the author, students are asked to answer the following discussion questions: which source do you trust more and why, 2) how would you use each source, and 3) which one is written by a scholar/expert? After revealing the author, students are then asked about the purpose each source and the advantages and disadvantages of using them.

    I like the fact that this activity encourages discussion. While I provide mostly 50 minute instruction sessions, I may be able to adopt this activity in a 90 minute class. I could spend the first 20-30 minutes on the activity, and then the rest of the class period could be spent on having students find their own examples through library resources and the web. I am definitely going to try it! I am also going to browse Project CORA for more activities and ideas to keep my instruction fresh and more student centered.


  10. I explored the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox and chose a lesson plan developed by a community college librarian (like me), Claire Lobdell’s “Gossip Activity:” In competing small groups, students are first asked to imagine that they’ve heard some gossip about an acquaintance and make two lists, things that make them trust what they’ve heard and things that make them think the information is untrustworthy. The class regroups and chooses the winning group with the best lists, then repeats the activity, this time looking at a website.

    Structuring the lesson as a game sees like it would appeal to students, and I like the approach of letting students build on what they already know about evaluating information. Unfortunately, the activity takes about forty minutes, and at my college we often have only fifty minutes for a “one-shot” to cover choosing/refining a topic, library resources, and evaluating information. I would certainly use The Gossip Activity as is in our one-unit library research class, but for a presentation in another class I might adapt it by using only the first or the second part of the activity.


  11. I chose an assignment from the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox. I selected “Evaluating Claims: Pseudoscience & Conspiracy Theories, contributed by Cristy Manor (Broward College, North Campus Library, Coconut Creek, FL). I chose this assignment because one of our English faculty has his students write a paper on pseudoscience. I wanted to make a comparison of how the assignment is done at my College, as our students find it to be a very difficult area to research. My interest was in seeing to the frame was applied to the topic. The assignment the librarian uses is for students to find evidence to support or oppose a pseudoscience or conspiracy theory claim. The results are presented in a two page paper. The process is for students learn how to create a search statement, evaluate sources, and identify appropriate sources (database and web) to support their topics. Ms. Moran also includes a nice adaptation of the CRAAP test for students to use as a source evaluation tool.The students are given the parameters for the types of information they should include in their papers. The searching exercise is done as a classroom activity. I would not change this assignment. I think that adding the conspiracy theory option, gives students more flexibility and is more interesting because they are based on facts (or are they?), rather than sticking strictly to a pseudoscience topic. It would be interesting to share this assignment with my institution’s English instructor to see if he would be open to adjusting his assignment to include conspiracy theories to broaden his assignment and perhaps make it more interesting.


  12. Here’s the link to the activity I created related to Authority is Constructed and Contextual, and it’s one component of a larger lesson plan that usually includes some database instruction. Another colleague and I have run this activity 3 or 4 times this semester and students have seemed to really enjoy it and get very competitive and engaged with the topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed this activity related to explaining peer review.

    I find that I always feel pressed when it comes to explaining the hierarchy of evidence. I want to be able to convey why scholarly publishing is held in a high regard while also underlining the fact that it isn’t infallible, it’s important to look at critically and ideally it’s seen for its part in a conversation versus an ending point. This is especially true when it comes to the biomedical literature my students access where the focus is not just on the quality of the study but its replicability.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I found this assignment when looking for ideas on how to use interactive software for website and news evaluation.
    LIN 175 – Week 5
    Critically Evaluating Information

    The assignment is very straight forward. Students review the Prezi and then evaluate articles about caffeine consumption. The assignment gives follow up material for further reading.

    For my classes, I would most likely convert the information out of Prezi as I have had students comment it is hard to follow. The interactive quiz about why the articles relating to coffee is great as it has students defend their position of why they would share or use the information. Depending on if the class is subject specific the quiz could be modified to fit the field of study. For example, a class that focuses on Global Diseases could highlight articles that give ‘stranger than’ diseases and see if students can identify which are credible. A follow up discussion could highlight predatory journals and the impact they have on peer review:



    • Shelly,
      Since enough people consume at least some amount of caffeine, the topic would resonate with many learners personally. The real-world implications are an added plus.


  15. My plan is taken from the ACRL Information Literacy Sandbox. The lesson plan I used is called Scholarly Article Autopsy which was created by Krista Bowers Sharpe. The creator suggests while it could work in a 1 1/2 hour class better it could with some changes work in a 50 min. class too. The purpose is to compare scholarly vs. non-scholarly articles . I’m tired of students thinking the difference is based on putting a check mark in a box but having no clue as to what else is going on. The class works in small groups of about 3. I think the group approach as long as it’s small works well because it encourages the group to move on vs. to procrastinate individually about what they say seems hard. The plan seems eminently doable but/and what we would have to do is really work one on one with faculty who teach research methods why this ‘autopsy’ is important. We encounter some who bewail how students perform but do not assume that librarians and/or library as an institution could play a part to improve this situation. I know Education on my campus has most recently suggested they have a real issue in this area so maybe a solution is to speak one on one, show them what we could do and see if we could get some takers.


  16. After looking through a few lesson plans in CORA the idea of using a jigsaw exercise made the most sense to me.

    The idea of providing students with articles to read instead of spending the time finding them may seem counterintuitive (to some faculty), but I think it allows the students to worry less about how to find things and to focus on the evaluation of a particular article. The jigsaw would allow students to teach each other and for me as an instructor to hear how they are thinking as I walk around and listen to what is being said in the discussion. Also I can provide a wide range of sources that will address the issues raised by Lenker about Motivated Reasoning and challenging some assumptions about what we read “objectively”.

    Even the title “Beyond the Checklist” is important. I feel like much of our instruction is a list of things the faculty want us to cover, with the introduction to a series of databases being the most prevalent form of lists. I would be careful to choose shorter articles or articles that the students could skim for important information. This would also allow for time at the end to show how I found the articles and to let the students try to find articles on the same spectrum as the ones provided in class. I have gotten to the point where I am more concerned about students understanding where information comes from and how it is dispersed and shared.


  17. I found this lesson in the ARCL Sandbox: Evaluating Online Information

    The contributor is Laura Costello. The Information Literacy Frames addressed are: Authority is Constructed and Contextual, Searching as Strategic Exploration

    I have used a similar document in a first-year writing seminar in the past. This lesson directs the students to ask pointed questions to evaluate any website. The pdf is something that can be shared with students and/or with faculty. If faculty are using an online learning management system, they may opt to post the pdf to their class site.


  18. I found an exercise in the book Teaching Information Literacy Reframed: 50 Framework-Based Exercises for Creating Information-Literate Learners by Joanna M. Burkhardt. On page 65 there is an exercise called “Political Pundits” in which students are asked to use a political candidates website to find and list their credentials. Then they are supposed to look at biographical information from a source for and a source against the candidate. They are to note differences in what was reported in each source. They are to decide what credentials make the candidate an authority. Also what biases they found in what was reported. Then they are to decide if the candidates are qualified to serve in office.


  19. I also chose a lesson from the ACRL Sandbox. I think that using these resources is a great idea!
    Here is the link to what I chose:
    The frames associated with this are: Authority is Constructed and Contextual, Information Creation as Process, and Information Has Value.

    It is a lesson by Spencer Brayton. The purpose is evaluating “the credibility of a news article from social media”. I liked this particular lesson because a.) evaluation of news articles is a hot topic (particularly when so much conflicting information about what is “real” or “fake”) and b.) students use social media to often find out about the current news (see Pew Report here: –62% of people get news from social media.

    This lesson is simple, yet effective in its simplicity. Students find a news article (it must be share-able to everyone) and then answer 4 questions relating to the claims made in the story. Then students are to determine if there is an expert opinion, how many likes, was it shared by a friend, or if it has emojis. From here, I imagine there would be a discussion or some sort of feedback, as some articles may be determined to have authority based upon credentials or some kind of local expert in that field, and others may not be able to determine the expertise. From there, maybe as the instructor you would discuss the idea of likes, thumbs up, etc. to see how students determine that that particular article has merit.

    Perhaps the class could determine together whether there is a threshold of the number of likes, or who shares an item, that determines the reliability. It would be interesting to have a counterpoint article ready–one that has lots of likes, shares, but then was determined to be false (see this case study:

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I hope to borrow from p. 33 of “The One Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide” by Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough. A vignette on that page by Shannon Robinson describes an activity which has students analyzing three different information sources which all happen to be by the same author.


    • That sounds intriguing. I’ll have to borrow that edition to see the exercise, but it sounds like a good lead-in to a discussion of intended audience. It also sounds like a way to encourage using good popular sources as a source of background knowledge. Then the scholarly articles make more sense.


  21. Avery, S. (2011). Sources Smackdown : Effectively Evaluating Information Sources. In T.R. McDevitt (Ed.), Let the games begin!: engaging students with field-tested interactive information literacy instruction (90-92). New York, NY: Neil-Schuman Publishers.

    I’ve adapted and used this as an activity in one-shot sessions for first year English composition courses. This came out way before the Framework, but I think it’s a good place to bring up authority to students who probably never thought about it before (or see authority as good/bad black/white). I don’t currently have the book with me, so I can only explain my adapted version. Also I’ve switched jobs since I’ve used it last so I can’t link to a LibGuide for a more visual explanation.

    I create a tab on the class LibGuide that has 5 (or however many manageable groups needed to split the class up) subsections. I split the class up into that many groups and assign a letter and tell the groups to go to that letter on the guide. Each group has a different topic and 5 links. I tell the students to look at each of the links and decide (as a group) which resource is the most and least trustworthy and come up with a quick reason why. I don’t tell them that there is one link from each of these categories: blog post, peer-reviewed article, newspaper article, magazine article, and government website. They need at least 10 minutes to do this.

    Then, I go around to each group and have the group talk about their picks. Each group always picks a different type of article than the others for most/least trustworthy and they have really interesting reasoning. I never tell them they’re wrong, but listen and highlight the good thought processes they use to come to this conclusion. I tell them that there’s no right answer, but each resource has their positives and negatives depending on what they’re using it for. This usually is a great jumping off point to show them a database that collects a variety of types of resources (magazine, newspaper, scholarly articles).


  22. I’ve been mentioning “fake news” in some of my IL sessions on evaluating sources. I have come across Vanessa Otero’s media bias chart peridiocally, and wanted to incorporate it in my instruction. This lesson plan from the ACRL Framework Sandbox, “Fake News” is on a Continuum, by Darcy Gervasio, is useful in helping students identify if a news source may be more liberal or conservative. By having students research the news source and placing it on board based on that research, it helps them to think more critically about that particular source.

    I would build upon this lesson by having students create with their own chart, based on the news sources that they currently use, or have heard about.

    I would also include an exercise in searching Google as though in another country (,, etc.) to help students understand that they may get different results from Google depending on which location from which they are searching.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Cristy, it’s great that you’ve already contributed lessons to the Sandbox and Project CORA! I love this lesson: the real life scenario frames the activity well, and your questions for evaluating an expert’s qualifications could lead to some interesting discussion.


    • I was inspired by the readings, and particularly the concept of “motivated reasoning” to design a lesson which would invite students to look more closely at the motivations and factors behind the creation of fake and misleading news. Understanding why fake news is generated and how people benefit can contribute to students absorbing “authority is contextual and constructed” as a threshold concept.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s