Evaluating Internet Resources
How do I evaluate the quality of websites?
How can I teach students to evaluate websites?
Where can I find checklists for evaluation?
Read Evaluating Information: An Information Literacy Challenge by MaryAnn Fitzgerald. SLMR, 2, 1999.
Do you believe everything you read? How gullible are you? There are people who believe that we never walked on the moon and that the Holocaust never happened, so be careful when you read a web page. The truth is out there, but so is the lie.
Look for what Wikipedia calls the “verifiability” of information. You should be able to check the material you find against other reliable sources. Content that is likely to be challenged should contain multiple sources of evidence that have been carefully cited.
Read Wicked or Wonderful: Revisiting Wikipedia by Annette Lamb. Think about the value and challenges of using Wikipedia.
Some websites were designed to be intentionally misleading. These websites may be parodies, satire, hoaxes, or designed to show students the importance of questioning information found on the web.
Use the following websites to explore the issue of Internet content. Some are real and some are fake or silly. How will you teach students to question EVERYTHING they read? Select one to use as an example.
- Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie
- California’s Velcro Crop under Challenge
- Male Pregnancy
- Museum of Jurassic Technology
- Ova Prima
- Physics and Star Trek
- Save the Guinea Worm
- Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
- Shards O Glass
- Should we ban dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO)?
Fake news has become a popular form of satire. Read about News satire at wikipedia. Here are three popular examples:
A few websites are addressing the issue of misleading information. Use these websites to help your students identify fact and fiction. Keep in mind that even these websites should only be one of many sources of information.
- Snopes – the best source for factual information about rumors
Criteria for Evaluation
Students need to learn to evaluate the quality of information they find on the web as well as other information resources such as books, magazines, CD-ROM, and television. Ask students to be skeptical of everything they find. Encourage them to compare and contrast different information resources. Consider the following ideas:
Authority. Who says? Know the author.
- Who created this information and why?
- Do you recognize this author or their work?
- What knowledge or skills do they have in the area?
- Is he or she stating fact or opinion?
- What else has this author written?
- Does the author acknowledge other viewpoints and theories?
Objectivity. Is the information biased? Think about perspective.
- Is the information objective or subjective?
- Is it full of fact or opinion?
- Does it reflect bias? How?
- How does the sponsorship impact the perspective of the information?
- Are a balance of perspectives represented?
- Could the information be meant as humorous, a parody, or satire?
Authenticity. Is the information authentic? Know the source.
- Where does the information originate?
- Is the information from an established organization?
- Has the information been reviewed by others to insure accuracy?
- Is this a primary source or secondary source of information?
- Are original sources clear and documented?
- Is a bibliography provided citing the sources used?
Reliability. Is this information accurate? Consider the origin of the information.
- Are the sources truth worthy? How do you know?
- Who is sponsoring this publication?
- Does the information come from a school, business, or company site?
- What’s the purpose of the information resource: to inform, instruct, persuade, sell? Does this matter?
- What’s their motive?
Timeliness. Is the information current? Consider the currency and timeliness of the information.
- Does the page provide information about timeliness such as specific dates of information?
- Does currency of information matter with your particular topic?
- How current are the sources or links?
Relevance. Is the information helpful? Think about whether you need this information.
- Does the information contain the breadth and depth needed?
- Is the information written in a form that is useable (i.e. reading level, technical level)?
- Is the information in a form that is useful such as words, pictures, charts, sounds, or video?
- Do the facts contribute something new or add to your knowledge of the subject?
- Will this information be useful to your project?
Efficiency. Is this information worth the effort? Think about the organization and speed of information access.
- Is the information well-organized including a table of contents, index, menu, and other easy-to-follow tools for navigation?
- Is the information presented in a way that is easy to use (i.e., fonts, graphics, headings)?
- Is the information quick to access?
Finding Website Evaluation Information
As you explore information on the web, keep in mind that there are many different types of information from research data to opinions. Start with an overview of the contents of the page. Can you determine the purpose and audience of the page? Does the page focus on information, news, advocacy, sales, or a mixture?
Search for Clues. Start by examining the page itself. Look at the web address (URL). What kind of domain (.edu, .gov, .org, .net, .com) is it? This doesn’t always help, but it may provide an indication of the sponsor. Is it a government site, school resource, museum, commercial or private web project? Try to determine who published the page. Is it an individual or an agency? Can you find a name attached to the page? Look at the core page for the entire website (everything between the http:// and the first /) and see who sponsored the site and how information was selected. You might also try truncating the website address to see each level between slashes.
Sometimes you can answer these questions by reading the creation information at the bottom of the main page. Look for a name, organization, or email address. If you can’t find the answer there, see if you can locate a page that tells “about the website.” Sometimes there’s a “contact us” page. The author of the page and the webmaster may or may not be the same person.
For information about the content of the page, look for a link to an author biography, philosophy, or background information.
Another hint about the quality of the website is the copyright date. When was the page originally posted? When was the last time the page was updated? This information is generally at the bottom of each page or at least the first page of the website.
Look for sponsors. Does the site use banner sponsors? What do they sell? Is a well-known organization a sponsor? Consider whether the site’s sponsors could impact the perspective to the website. In most cases, a company wants the information at their site to reflect positively on them.
Ask Questions. If you still can’t determine the quality of the information, consider emailing the webmaster and asking about the site’s content. Students will be amazed at the range of answers that will be provided. Some webmasters post anything that’s given to them, while others are experts in a content area field.
Track Backward and Forward. Another way to learn more about a website is to see “who links to them” and “who they link to.” Use a search engine to search for the “URL” or author of the website in question. Does it appear on a “favorites” list? If so, whose list? Is this list credible? If the site has won an award, what’s the criteria for the award and how is the award given? You can also track forward. In other words, look at the links that are used by the web developer of your site. Do they go to good or poor quality sites? Is this website cited in subject guides such as About.com or Librarian’s Index?
Cross-Check Data. In addition to the act of evaluating a single page, students also need to learn to cross-check information. In other words, there should be three independent resources confirming each pieces of questionable data. This cross-checking can be done different ways. For example, if students are creating a graphic organizer, they could star each item that has been doubled or triple checked. Consider using a variety of information formats including encyclopedia, magazine articles, videos, experts, and web pages.
When filtering information, students need to understand the spectrum of options between fact and opinion. Issues of perspective, point of view, and bias must be discussed. One of the advantages of using the Internet with students is the availability of so many examples. Students can see misinformation and propaganda in action. Give students the opportunity to question their findings and discuss their concerns. The following websites provide interesting activities to get you students thinking about the quality of information on the Internet.
Web Evaluation Tools
Web Evaluation Activities
- Evaluating Web Pages: Experience WHY it’s important. This great activity asks students to explore online resources to determine why evaluation is so important. Be sure to check out the Hints and Tips for each topic. Try their evaluation pdf form.
- Truth, Lies, and the Internet – This excellent article explores the issue of truth on the web and provides dozens of excellent examples of hoaxes, myths, and other interesting Internet issues.
- Evaluating Quality on the Net – Hope N. Tillman
- Evaluatng Websites from Cornell
- Cyberbee and web design evaluation checklists
Build a Lesson
Using the lesson ideas and resources provided, design an activity that combines a subject area standard with a lesson in evaluating sources. Focus on a specific criteria for your lesson such as the importance of currency or point of view. Involve students in evaluating websites or comparing the content found in two or more websites. Ideas:
– Look for current and dated information on social studies, science, or health topics that have changed recently such as the number of planets. Go to the Wikipedia: Current Event page to see a list of those articles that are currently changing as the event unfolds.
– Look for controversal topics and identify websites with particular views. Read the “about” pages of websites. Can you determine why particular views might be presented in this website? Go to the Wikipedia: List of controversial issues as a starting point for this topic. They provide a list of pages where the neutrality of content has been challenged and editing wars have been waged. Check out the current topics. How would you determine the neutrality of articles? Also, examine the issue of Conflict of Interest. Read Wikipedia’s Conflict of Interest page to understand this issue.
Email a Webmaster
Select an informational website. Scroll to the bottom of the first page and see if you can find the email address of the webmaster. Email this person and ask about the origin of the information found on the page.
Evaluate an Evaluation Tool
Compare and contrast the evaluation tools found in the links above. Create your own evaluation tool based on the needs of your students.
Conduct a Comparison
Compare and contrast the information found in three different resources. Ask yourself about authority, objectivity, reliability, and relevance.
Just for Fun
Build three similar pages with slightly different information or perspective that could be used for discussion.