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Internet Research Skills
Evaluating Internet Sources: A Guide for Educators
To say that content on the Web varies in quality is a gross understatement. Some sites are so poor that they offer little educational support. Others, however, have flaws that require closer inspection to detect.
Web Content for the Elementary Grades
When constructing activities based on the Web, it is important that educators first visit the sites and evaluate them for:
- Readability -- are there simple texts and graphics?
- Function -- how will the resources be used? As a class, an independent group, or individually?
- Ease of use -- are the resources easy to use independently?
Educators must evaluate sites for use in the elementary grades based on several criteria:
Quality and level of content
- Sites should be content-rich and reliable.
- Sites should be produced or supported by respected institutions or individuals.
- Content must match the level of the learners.
Layout of content
- Young learners in the early grades are still learning to navigate the Web. A willingness to experiment must not be confused with competence.
- Content must be presented in a way that does not distract young learners when learning.
- Sites that are easy to navigate and that divide information into easily digested chunks will facilitate independent in-class use.
Lesson plans and activities
- Generally, it may prove easier to use sites that have been created with a specific set of learning outcomes in mind, and which have lesson plans and activities that match the content.
- Some sites with lesson plans and activities include Library and Archives Canada, Early Canadiana Online: www.canadiana.org/en/, and the American Library of Congress www.loc.gov/.
- Sites that are too slow will disrupt lessons and inhibit learning. Sites with heavy graphics are particularly guilty of this.
Links to other sites and advertising
- For ethical reasons, educators need to consider what other messages are being sent with the content, in the form of banner ads and links to other sites.
Web Content for the Secondary Grades
In the early secondary grades, educators should focus on teaching basic research skills -- where to find information, how to evaluate it and how to use it (or not use it) in report and essay writing.
Older secondary learners should be developing independent research skills, including using sites with primary source material.
Educators in the social sciences and language arts should collect a list of reputable sites containing primary source materials. They can pass this list to young learners.
It is important that young learners be able to evaluate the sources they use. See Evaluating Internet Sources: A Guide for Learners.
Educators should use the following standards to evaluate sites for the secondary grades:
- Bias. Whether evaluating content or a collection, users must consider whether it is an objective source versus one created for a specific purpose.
- Authority. Is the creator qualified to speak on the subject? Young learners must understand that information posted on the Web does not necessarily go through a review process.
- Primary sources. Primary sources foster valuable learning and thinking skills.
Comprehensiveness and level
- Is the site comprehensive in its content, or is it simply a brief citation?
- Learners in secondary school should not be using content created for young learners in the primary grades.
Ease of use
- The site should have simple, obvious navigation, including clear menus with understandable terms.
- If the material is to be used in the classroom, educators and young learners must consider download time, content layout and alternative access methods, such as printable formats.
- Bookmarking specific pages on individual machines can also be an effective strategy.
Links to other sites and advertising
- Concerns about inappropriate material are more relevant during the teen years.
An excellent source for evaluating Internet materials on a range of issues is the Media Awareness Network: www.media-awareness.ca/english/index.cfm.
Bookmark: In this case, to save the URL of a website on a Web browser. Called "Favorites" on Internet Explorer.
URL: Abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator, the address you see at the top of your Web page.
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