Critical appraisal is the process by which students and researchers evaluate the quality of a research article to assess the the usefulness of its findings. My library runs critical appraisal training, and at present it is the only course we offer that I don’t teach myself. This is mainly due to a lack of confidence on my part – my background is in the humanities, not the sciences, and the process of evaluating the quality of humanities research is very different. The librarian – who leads critical appraisal training – was kind enough to let me sit in on a session she led today, so that I could find out more about what was involved. I found the experience valuable and interesting.
The other participants and I were sent an article in advance to read through in our own time. In the session, we assessed it against the criteria laid out by CASP for randomised controlled trials in a three-part checklist. The first section of the checklist deals with whether the results of the trial are valid, the second asks what the results actually are, and the third focuses on whether the results are helpful and applicable in a local context. I found having this very clear framework, with a checklist of questions (several with a simple yes or no answer, others more open to interpretation) to answer helpful in terms of keeping focused on relevant information.
I found that the colloquial, collaborative teaching structure created a comfortable atmosphere. Rather than taking the form of a lecture with practical exercises done individually by participants, the session was more like an ongoing conversation, with every participant discussing the paper enthusiastically. Everyone had different areas of expertise and levels of experience, which meant that all participants were able to learn from each other, not just from the trainer. I certainly learnt a lot from the participants!
I’m not sure whether I’m ready to be let loose on potential critical appraisal students and lead the course myself, but being able to observe was definitely a great step in that direction. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so.