"But it's on the Internet!" - Evaluating Websites and Online Information
By EHS Library Director Ann Chase
In the spring, almost every student at Eagle Hill does a research project. I was looking over the shoulder of one young student who was working on hers and asked if she needed any help. "No," she said confidently, "I have to find out what koala bears eat, and I found out they eat cherries and salmon."
"Are you sure?" I asked. "I think they only eat eucalyptus. Would you show me where you found that information?" She pulled up the page and pointed to a popular gaming site. I reinforced our previous discussions about reliable sources, but she remained convinced that the information she had found was correct. "But it's on the internet!" she said. "Isn't everything online true?"
Long gone are the days of having to trek to the library to check the card catalog or search encyclopedias for information. With a click of the mouse, students can find out about the history of Ireland, which animals are endangered-or almost anything else they want. At Eagle Hill, we subscribe to two online encyclopedias and many databases where students know that everything they find will be accurate. But the reality is they often need to do research online as well. While students are adept at finding information, what parents, teachers, and librarians are discovering, however, is that they have no idea how to evaluate it. Thus it becomes our responsibility to help guide them through the morass of pop-up ads, game enticements, countless pages of data, and an overwhelming temptation to plagiarize by cutting and pasting.
One thing we can do is give students a framework of questions to help them think about what they are reading: What is content and what is advertising? Who wrote it? Why? Below, you'll see some of the questions students need to ask to help evaluate the information they find online. All they have to remember are the 5 W's: who, what, when, where, and why.
WHO? It's important to determine who wrote the information on the website. You should be able to find an author's name, his/her credentials, as well as contact information. (People who make up information certainly don't publish their email address!) In other words, is the person an expert, or some random person writing from Starbucks?
WHAT? One thing you want to determine right away is the purpose of the website. Is it meant to inform, persuade, sell, or entertain? Is it serious or humorous? One student was adamant that the satirical news site The Onion was a perfect resource for his paper because at the top it states "America's Finest News Source." Fortunately, these misconceptions are opportunities for discussion.
Other things to look for: Is the site organized and focused or full of flashing pop-up ads? Are there lots of spelling and grammatical errors? Is the typeface large enough and easy to read? Are links current and working?
Young students often struggle with trying to determine whether or not the information on a site is objective. A site that has a bias isn't necessarily bad, especially if you are trying to look at both sides of a particular issue, but that information should be transparent.
WHEN? It's important to know when a site was created - and especially when it was updated. You should be able to find a date somewhere on the home page. Students were surprised to learn that our online encyclopedias are updated every day - and sometimes more often, depending on the articles. Even if there isn't much new information about, say, George Washington, the website the article is published on should still be checked and updated regularly.
WHERE? Where does the information come from? Information about the person and/or organization sponsoring the site should be clearly visible. (Sometimes it will say "About Us," or something to that effect.) If the site is supported by an organization such as a university or museum, chances are the information is reliable.
WHY? How does this site compare to others you have seen on the subject? The information you're reading might be interesting, but does this site have the best information for THIS project?
Using this framework to evaluate information found on the web will help students -over time - develop a critical eye and question what they read. That's the first step to becoming a savvy internet researcher.
NANCY P. LYNCH LIBRARY & MEDIA CENTER
We're more than just a library!
According to the American Library Association,
"more than 60 education and library research studies have produced clear evidence that school library programs staffed by qualified school librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement. School library programs foster critical thinking, providing students with the skills they need to analyze, form, and communicate ideas in compelling ways."
At Eagle Hill School, Librarian Ann Chase has created an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and exploration. Couches are intermingled with chairs and tables. A large fish tank hums quietly in one corner, while students discover the latest learning software on computers at the other end of the room. The librarian collaborates closely with teachers to help our students:
- become information literate
- to locate, evaluate and use information to fill assignments
- to solve problems, and to satisfy their curiosity
- to find books they like to read (many of our students come to us convinced that they can't –or don't like to–read, so we gently challenge those ideas and encourage them to try new things)
- to become ethical, lifelong learners who are curious, open-minded and respectful of the choices of others by choosing books that reflect a diversity of cultures, races, classes, backgrounds and interests.
The librarian also supports teachers and their research requirements, as well as instructional and informational reading/viewing needs. Teachers and students know it is their LMC and the librarian actively seeks suggestions so the collection remains current and topical.
In the Faculty Lounge, a collection of professional books and periodicals are available for faculty use, as well as a lending library ( honor system) of books on special needs for our parents to borrow.
"F.A.T. CITY VIDEO: One particularly popular rental from the main Library is "How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop" video, an extraordinary look at learning disabilities from a child's perspective. To learn more, or to suggest new materials, email Librarian Ann Chase-Karel.