A Walk-through Evaluation Guide, Day #3–Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

We all evaluate sources to some degree. The question is–how well do we evaluate them and do we have the right criteria. When you go to purchase a car, you may have a list of needs and wants that varies from the next person. However, when you are evaluated at your job, your boss uses the same set of criteria to evaluate you as the next person because he/she is looking for a common trait among all employees. Likewise, Web evaluation needs a standard set of criteria because we evaluate for common traits: intention of site, reliability of site, and the relevance of the site.

Since there is a common set of criteria for evaluating a Website, teaching how to evaluate should be systematic. Eventually, it should be a process that is ingrained in all Web users.

Let’s walk through the steps. One of my favorite searching/evaluation errors I like to show my students is the myth of the .org site and the “first link click” epidemic.

To begin, do a search for Martin Luther King on Google. Your results will look similar to this:

Notice that it is the fourth link from the top. And, it says “true.” It even says that it is a “valuable resource for students and teachers alike.” Can you guess which one catches your students’ attention (other than Wikipedia)?

Most of my students entered my class with the belief that .org sites were reliable–infallible almost. The next step is to click on the link. When you do, you will find a page that looks like this:

Let’s go through the evaluation steps. There are two processes I like to use. One is the toecap method.

The other is from the University of Michigan: Intention of site, reliability of site, relevance of site. The questions it asks are as follows:

So, let’s go through the steps:

First we need to figure out who the author is in order to figure out if it’s trustworthy, reliable, relevant, and what its intention is. At the bottom of the page, I see a link that says “brought to you by Stormfront.” I will assume that is the author so I click on that link. Here is the page that comes up:

What is the objective of the site? Well, we can tell that Stormfront is part of the White Pride World Wide. It says that “there are thousands of organizations promoting the interests, values, and heritage of non-Whites. We promote ours.” So, we can assume that their objective is to promote white supremacy.

Is the information effective? Well, if the mission is to promote white supremacy and show supposed traits of Martin Luther King, then it is effective.

Is the information current? We cans see from recent posts that it is very current.

Is the information accurate? This is the problem. It notes that it promotes the heritage of whites. Well, Martin Luther King was non-white. And, he argued for equal rights. So, we can use our background knowledge to assume this organization and Martin Luther King probably did not agree. Therefore, their information’s accuracy is suspect.

What is the purpose? To begin, think of your research purpose. If your purpose is to find about Martin Luther King and his background, do this site do so in an unbiased way? No. It says that it has an agenda. And, we only want unbiased information. Therefore, its purpose does not match our purpose and this Website fails the evaluation test.

Though this Website is a clear example of one that is biased and not an effective source on Martin Luther King, others are not as simple. Therefore, it is important to ingrain this method in your students. Everyday, they face thousands of bits of information and they need to be able to evaluate and think critically.

And even though we want students to be using search engines that they will use in the real world, instaGrok is a great tool that isn’t about finding the answer. Instead, it’s about learning and comprehending the topic. In that sense, it is different than the search engines students will use on their own because its goal is not to search and find. Rather, it is to explore and develop connections between concepts. It allows students to use search engines for more than just searching and it hopes to teach students that it isn’t about just “clicking on the first link” (read Instagrok: A (Re)search Engine for Education). Perhaps, we should be instilling in our students a love for learning rather than a search and find mentality?

Stay tuned for more on searching and evaluating in the 21st century. 

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