Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Dynamic Learning Environment/Resource Evaluation

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How can we teach students to evaluate resources for learning?

Throughout a person’s life, one is constantly searching for information. One, and sometimes the only, place a person seeks information is on the internet. This is because the internet is growing ever more convenient and requires few skills to navigate. The internet, even though it is easy to retrieve information, does have its drawbacks. One being that just because information is easy to obtain does not mean that it is accurate or valid for that matter.

Pretty much anyone can post information on the internet with relative ease. All that is really needed is internet access, and some knowledge on how to post the information. So, a person does not have to be an authority on any subject to display their knowledge on the internet. With this in mind, the question of how to evaluate the information is constantly being brought up.

As a teacher, it becomes pertinent to teach students how to evaluate this information, and this needs to be done effectively because this is a skill that students will use throughout their lives. Not just in their academic career, but in their professional and personal lives as well.

Things to Look For[edit]

Several sources including: Randy Fletcher from Danville Area Community College, Susan Beck from the New Mexico State University Library, the Easley Library of Bluefield College and others, all agree that the 5 major things to look for when evaluating a source of information are: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage/suitability. Being aware of these criteria will aid teachers in teaching students how to evaluate sources of information. While looking through these criteria, there are several questions that need to be asked under each category.

Authority[edit]

While trying to evaluate the authority of a site, there are a couple of questions that can be asked. One is, “is the author an expert on the topic, has the author written other material on the topic?” One way to help answer this is to try and find the author’s credentials on the site. Finding credentials will aid in determining why the author is qualified for writing on the topic. If the author is a professor at a college, and the topic being discussed is in his/her field of research, then the author has good credentials and the information most likely valid.

However, for other authors, some background research may be necessary. One quick way to find some background information on the author is to see if there are biographical sources on the author, or perhaps the source provides biographical information.

Another way to quickly determine authority is to look at the URL of the internet source. More reliable sources typically end either in .gov, .edu, or .org. While less reliable sources end in .com. This is because everyone has access to these sites and can post information on these websites. So a source such as wikipedia.com, is not a very reliable source because anyone can post information on that site, regardless of their position.

Accuracy[edit]

We live in an information age. The quantity of information available is so staggering that we cannot know everything about a subject. For example, it’s estimated that anyone attempting to research what’s known about depression would have to read over 100,000 studies on the subject. And there’s the problem of trying to decide which studies have produced reliable results.

—Online Writing Lab

Another thing to ask when evaluating a source is, “how accurate is the information?” This may require that the person seeking the information has some background knowledge on the subject. Having background knowledge on the subject will make things easier and quicker when deciding whether or not a source is completely inaccurate or does provide some relevance. One more way to help with determining the accuracy of the information from a source is to see if there is a list of sources the author may have used to retrieve information to write their paper. If the author does provide a list of sources, a person can compare the information in the paper with the information from other authors.

Objectivity[edit]

In searching for objectivity, one thing to search for is minimal bias. Is the author trying to persuade your opinion? The author should write to present facts and not try to change opinion. The author’s work should contain objectivity. If the author is trying to persuade opinion, then the author’s work is possibly skewed. The author may only be presenting information that will help alter a person’s opinion, while avoiding other information. Sometimes the author only wants you to know what they believe to be true instead of the complete scenario. If this is the case, then the source probably isn’t a reliable one to use, and if the author presents all information without bias, it is probably a more reliable source to use.

Currency[edit]

A few things to look for while determining how current an article is are: is there a date present on the article, if so, when the article was last updated, and is the information current. If the article was created or last updated several years prior to the date found, then the information may be out dated. More information on the topic may have been discovered, or some of what was thought to be factual may have been found to be incorrect after more research. The more current a source is, the more reliable the source may be. The author has incorporated more information, and has had a chance to adapt new information, and if need be, alter the information that the author has already retrieved.

Coverage/Suitability[edit]

In the source, one thing to look for is how in depth the source delves into the topic. Does the source explain in detail the topic at hand, or does it just give a brief summary? If a source gives a brief summary of the topic, it probably isn't a very reliable source.

Conclusion[edit]

The questions you ask to evaluate books, periodical articles, or web sources are similar.

—Easley Library

As a teacher, we should teach students not just how to find information, but we should teach students how to evaluate the information that they find. A student can find all the information in the world, but that doesn’t mean that the information is factual.

Teaching students to evaluate sources of information is not just a skill, but an ability that they will need, and use throughout their careers. Because of this, this skill needs to be taught effectively. Everything discussed here, will aid in teaching students how to evaluate sources of information, not just internet sources, but all sources. Most of this can be applied to any source of information with a few modifications.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of these would provide the most valid information about a heart disease?
A. Bob's 14 year old cousin
B. Mary's French teacher
C. A heart doctor
D. Dave's 3rd grade teacher

C. A heart doctor

Which of the following dates a source was last updated would most likely provide the most relevant information?
A. Dec. 28, 1990
B. May 13, 1995
C. January 7, 1988
D. October 2, 2006

D. October 2, 2006

Which of the following would be a more reliable source of information on World War II?
A. A 2nd grade teacher
B. A world history professor
C. Someone who was born in 1965
D. A car salesman

B. A world history professor

Why should teachers teach students to evaluate sources of information?
A. Students will use the skill for the rest of their lives
B. For fun
C. To waste time
D. So the students will forget

A. Students will use the skill for the rest of their lives

What is one criterion that should be looked at when evaluating a source of information?
A. Length
B. Color
C. Authority
D. Price

C. Authority

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

What have you been told about searching the internet for information? How will you explain searching for information on the internet to your students?

In my academic career, I have been told to use the internet and be careful of what I find. I have been told that not all information is completely factual, and to stay away from sites like Wikipedia, but not much else. I will teach my students to first look at the URL of a website, and if the site ends in .edu, .org, or .gov, then that site should contain reliable information. But to still be suspicious of the information presented until they have read the information. I will tell my students that they should check the date the site was last updated, and if it is a current site that seems reliable, then the information should be up to date. Also, I am going to explain to my students to never just be okay with a website just because it sounds reliable. They should do some background research to familiarize themselves with the information. If the students have that background information, then it will be easier to determine the validity of a source. If in figuring out whether a source is reliable or not is still difficult, then they can compare the information with that on other sources that have already been found to be reliable.

References[edit]