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This is a continuation of an earlier article about improving students’ search skills.
Choosing The Best Results
Search engines help us find relevant websites, however the ranking systems do not necessarily return the most reliable pages. This final step requires our human minds to make difficult and fuzzy decisions.
Simply choosing the top result is not enough. We must teach our students to evaluate websites.
These sites use words like “authority, currency, and coverage” or give students a twenty-five item checklist.
I want my students to quickly differentiate between reliable and unreliable sites, and these techniques don’t help.
Let’s approach the problem inductively and rely on our students’ intuition to guide us through this thorny issue.
A pre-set of rules quickly becomes unwieldily, so instead let’s begin with a set of examples to analyze. Connect a laptop to a projector and start a class discussion.
Go through a set of pages about the same topic, like so:
- A tumblr page about the blue ringed octopus
- A page from Animal Planet about the same topic
- A question on Yahoo Answers about the octopus
- PBS’s page about the blue ringed octopus
- A page from thinkquest.org about the octopus
For each page, ask students how reliable they think the information is. Ask for a “reliability rating” out of four stars. Then ask what specific details influence this reliability? Jot these ideas down.
You’ll probably start to see a pattern emerge. Have students group their common details into categories. These might include:
- visual appearance – sites that appear modern might be more reliable
- author credibility – what information about the author is presented
- prior knowledge – does the information jive with students’ understanding of the topic?
- organization’s credibility – is this website connected with a TV show, book, school, etc?
- ease of editing – can this site be edited by anyone or only experts?
Note that students are essentially creating their own rubric for evaluating website reliability.
Here’s another set of pages, which might become a homework assignment or just a second classroom discussion:
- National Geographic’s dwarf planet page
- NASA’s Dwarf Planet
- Yahoo Answers
- Wikipedia’s Pluto article
- A page from Here Be Answers
Ask if the patterns held up for both sets of pages. Refine and revise your class’ ideas.
An Ongoing Exercise
Repeat this discussion throughout the year. You’ll develop patterns and special cases. Write these down as you constantly revise your classroom understanding of website reliability.
Don’t expect these rules to stay static. The web will change dramatically in the next six months, so constantly come back to your “signs of a reliable website.”
The discussion will also tune you into your students’ understanding of the internet, which might be vastly different from your expectations.
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