Finding sources of information on the web is easy and fast, and high schoolers are particularly attracted to the “fast” part of the equation. Unfortunately, as high schoolers rely more and more heavily on the internet for research, they are not being taught how to assess the quality of the information they find.
The authors, both of whom are high school teachers, developed a three-day course on using the internet for research and have seen substantial improvement on the part of students following the program. The course revolves around teaching the students to consider five key issues about any site they encounter:
1. Accuracy. Is the site reliable? Are the links accessible? Does the information seem credible?
2. Authority. Who is the author and/or sponsor of the site? Is the sponsor a credible organization?
3. Objectivity. Is the site biased? Is the author’s point of view clearly stated? Are the links similarly biased?
4. Currency. When was the site updated, or is this information not even provided? Are the links working?
5. Coverage. Is the information word-intensive, graphics-intensive? Is it in-depth? Are statistics included?
Of course, students cannot be expected to jump right into thinking about all of these issues without some training. The course uses actual web sites on topical (and controversial) issues and has students explore how the information on the site is presented. The authors say their concept is adaptable to any type of course, and they suggest that teachers consider emphasizing to their students the issue of credibility of information on the freewheeling internet.