As everyone knows, online information is not always accurate. It can be wrong or misleading depending on the source of the information or the author him or herself. While there is a lot of accurate and excellent information available on the web, there is also much that is not correct and sometimes even dangerous. The following list of questions were created as a way to help students and teachers evaluate websites for both their accuracy and also their appropriateness for use in the classroom.
1. Is the author listed along with biographical information?Websites that list the author of the information are typically more reliable than those that are written 'anonymously'. Teachers and students should look for biographical information that provides the reason why the author has the authority to address the subject. This will also aid in the understanding of the integrity or bias of the material.
2. Is the website connected to a product or an interest group?
The main purpose of asking this question is to reveal bias. If a website is sponsored by a particular product or interest group, this can be a sign of bias. For example, if a website is sponsored by the National Rifle Association
and is talking about gun crimes
, the bias will probably be in favor of less government restriction on gun ownership. The subject matter being taught may require you to use biased information. However, knowing that it is should be pointed out and explained to students.
3. Is the information timely?
If you are teaching about a current event or a topic that changes over time, then it is imperative that you look for recently updated websites. With the vast amount of information available on the web, it is easy to find historical information that the non-discerning student could view as current. For example, a student could be completing a project on the solar system
and find a webpage that lists Pluto as a planet
. Reinforce that students should look for a publication date. These are often listed in small print at the bottom of webpages.
4. Are any sources cited?
When dealing with academic information that is not standard knowledge, you should look for citations. These add credibility to the information found. Similar to using an encyclopedia, it is more important to have citations for obscure knowledge. While the order of United States Presidents
or information about Supreme Court cases are well known, specific facts about president's personal lives might need to have sources.
5. Are the ads appropriate for the classroom setting?Website advertisements can often be inappropriate for students. Many times, the owners of the sites have no say in what is being advertised on their site. For example, one teacher was using a well known weather website when they were teaching about climate. Unfortunately, the lead advertisement on the page had recently changed to explain the benefits of a new type of brassiere. Obviously, this would cause distractions in the class. Therefore, you should avoid webpages that are full of ads.
6. Do links from the page lead to inappropriate websites?This can be tricky to check. While the information on a page might be appropriate for your classroom, the information that it links to might not be. For example, one teacher was using a website about Greek Mythology. However, they did not test the links that were embedded in the page. A few of the links went to very questionable material that was definitely not appropriate for the school setting. This is the type of situation that can unintentionally cause a teacher a lot of problems.