As our students grow dependant on Internet being a primary source for their information, it becomes of urgent necessity that we, as teachers and educators, should know how to evaluate web content and decipher credible resources from spam and irrelevant ones. Regrettably enough, some of the teachers who are using technology in their instruction still don't come to grips with the mechanisms used to sift through internet content. There is a crude analogy to this situation . A teacher who does not evaluate the web content he shares with his students is like a person driving a car without having a driver license, he can still drive his car but he does not know the real dangers he is putting himself to in doing so.
Update : This article is available for download in a Slideshare presentation below
Being able to evaluate online content is a skill detrimental to the 21st century education. Our students are digitally focused and they use Internet almost on a daily basis . You give them an assignment or a classroom project, the first thing they do is to check for resources online and if they do not know how to differentiate what is a reliable and credible resource from non credible ones they will simply fall easy prey to content scrapers and misleading information. Therefore, we need to seriously address this issue and try our best to make Internet that illuminating source that our students can comfortably use in their learning development.
Techniques of Web Evaluation
Below is a list of some of the best and most important techniques we can use to teach our students about how to evaluate a web page. Please check the webliography links at the end of this post for further readings.
1- Scan the URL
The URL is the web address of the page you are reading. it has this format :www.name of the website.name of article you are reading.com. This is the first door we need to tap in to get a glimpse of what the article is all about. Read the URL carefully and look for the following :
Does the URL have a domain name and if so is it appropriate for the content ? Students should know that a site that has a domain name ending with .edu is more likely to be relevant for academic and educational content. Other domain names of interest are .com, , .gov, .org. This does not mean that other domain names are spam or would not be irrelevant, we can also find good and credible content in other domains but this should be made clear to students.
2- When you are on a web page, make sure you check for these : " about us", " Philosophy ", " Background", " Bibliography". This will give you an idea about the people behind that content.
3- Look for the name of the author, or the name of the organization or institution, agency or whoever is responsible for the page.
4- Check out if the page is dated and if so , is it current enough ? Undated factual or statistical information is no better than anonymous information. Be cautious when dealing with it.
5- Look for indicators of quality information : are sources documented with footnotes or links ? Do the links work ? Are they reliable ? if the article is reproduced from another source then is it complete, not altered, fake, or forged ?
6- Try to figure out the purpose of the website ? Is it mainly commercial ? is the author trying to generate revenue by recommending things, enticing, or selling products ? Is the website informative and provides data and facts ?
According to nmsu.edu, There are 5major yardsticks to keep in mind while trying to evaluate a website:
1- Authority :
The authority of a webpage can be established by finding answers to these questions :
- Is there an author ? If so is there a way to contact him/her ?
- Is the page signed ?
- Is the author qualified ? An expert in his domain ? ( you can learn about this from his " about us " page if he has one.
- Is there a link to the information about the author or the sponsor of the website ? If the pages does not include no author name of sponsor, then is there any other way to determine its origin ?
To establish accuracy in a web page you need to ask yourself these questions :
- Is the information reliable ?
- Is it error-free ?
- Does it include links to other resources ?
- Is there an editor or someone who verifies and checks information ?
3- Objectivity :
To look for objectivity in a web age you need to ask the following questions :
- Does the information show a minimum of bias ?
- Is the author impartial in his reasoning ?
- Is the page designed to sway opinions ?
- How much advertising on the page ?
To investigate about this feature ask the following :
- Is the page dated ?
- How often is it dated ?
- What is the last time the page updated ?
- How current are the links? Have some expired or moved ?
5- Coverage :
to learn about a web page coverage you need to ask the following questions :
- what topics this website cover ?
- What is it that this page offer to readers ?
- How in-depth is the material ?
- What about the writing style, arguments, data , and facts included ? how are these developed ?
More evaluation tools
I have read several articles about this topic while I was working on this post but I did not find anything better than the neat and clear-cut classification of the web evaluation tools Cornell University Library has provided. Of course some of the things they included have already been mentioned above but there are many more to learn about. Let me summarize what they have written.
Evaluation criteria according to Cornell University Library :
- Date of publication
- Edition or Revision
- Title of Journal
- Intended Audience
- Objective Reasoning
- Writing Style
- Evaluative reviews
Evaluating Web pages : Questions to ask ? ( always according to Cornell University Library )
- What can the URL tell you /
- Who wrote the page ? is he,she, or the authoring institution a qualified authority ?
- Is it dated ? Current, timely ?
- Is information cited authentic ?
- Does the page have overall integrity and reliability as a source ?
- What the bias ?
- Could the page or site be iconic, like a satire or a spoof ?
- If you have questions or reservations, how can you satisfy them ?
Two Great tools to evaluate websites
I will share with you here two of the web tools I personally use to evaluate a webpage besides what I have already mentioned above:
First off I am a Chrome user and this browser helps me a lot in evaluating internet websites. I have installed some extensions that I can not imagine myself going online without having access to them.:
2- Google Page rank
This is a sophisticated algorithm Google uses to classify websites from 0 to 10 with 10 being the top. Any webpage with a Google Page rank of 3 upwards is a great website and can be ( only can be ) reliable. The first thing I do whenever I land on a page for the first time is to check its Google Page rank. You can install its extension on your browser and will always show the rank number of any web page. Check this page to download the extension for Chrome, Firefox,or Safari
3- Alexa Traffic rank
Alexa traffic rank is another great tool to rank websites. Advertisers use it a lot especially when looking for potential clients. Alexa ranks websites according to their backlinks and pageviews. It starts with 26 million down to 1 with 1 being the top ( Google has 1 in alexa rank ). Any website ranked from 300.000 down can be ( only can be ) a good resource. Again Alexa has an extension for both Chrome and firefox and it can also be used right from their homepage.
1- Cybrary Man links
2- Finding and Evaluating Websites Assignments
3- Evaluating Web pages
4- Evaluating and Using Print and Media Resources
5- Comparing and Evaluating Web Information Resources
6- Check-list for Evaluating Web Resources
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