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Searching | Evaluation | Ethical Use

EVALUATING Web sites

 

Tip# 1: What is the AUTHOR'S expertise?

Questions to ask:

How credible is the author of the web page?

    How much experience does the author have in this area? What is the author's occupation? What is the author's educational background? What is the author's reputation among others in the field?

Why?

Anyone can author information on the Internet WITHOUT approval. The content of most Web pages is published BEFORE it is evaluated by people with knowledge of the subject. By contrast, books, magazines and other print resources are published AFTER thorough reviews by experts.

How?

Look for other pages by the author on the same site or other sites. If the site has a site-search engine or site map, use one of these to help you find additional pages by or about the author. If this strategy isn't available, try truncating the URL to find additional pages residing on the same server. To find information on other sites, enter the author's name in a search engine.

Example:

All authors who worked on this project are associated with IMSA, a prestigious educational institution. The senior author and former director of Online Learning, Dr. David Barr, is a member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). His expertise comes through working with schools throughout the state to develop innovative educational programs, serving on the Illinois State Board of Education's Technology Coalition Planning Committee and the Illinois Century Network's Advanced Engineering Advisory Committee.

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Tip# 2: Is the PUBLISHER reliable?

Questions to ask:

How reliable is the publisher (site) of the web page?

Why?

Knowing about the organization that sponsors a site can sometimes provide clues for further investigation. Educational, non-profit and commercial sites tend to sponsor different kinds of information. However, unless you know something about the sponsoring organization, just knowing their name is no guarantee of quality.

How?

    Identify the domain of the site (what are the last letters of the URL?). Look for "about this site" links and follow them to find what the organizations have to say about themselves. Backtrack through the hierarchy of the URL (also known as truncation). This will often take you to the main home page of the organization where relevant information may be found.

Example:

The publisher of this web site is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. The .edu in the URL for The Internet Search Wizard indicates that it is an academy or college web site. IMSA is a state funded learning enterprise working to liberate the human spirit for the world. The mission of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a pioneering educational community, is to transform mathematics and science teaching and learning by developing ethical leaders who know the joy of discovering and forging connections within and among mathematics, science, the arts, and the humanities by means of an exemplary laboratory environment characterized by research, innovative teaching, and service. Visitors are encouraged to contact the 21CIF Team at IMSA with feedback and/or questions.

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Tip# 3: What pages LINK FROM the author's page?

Questions to ask:

How reliable are the pages that the author's page link to?

Why?

"Links from" a Webpage are like footnotes in a hard copy document; they may provide a context for evaluation. They can reveal how an author supports his or her argument and what other information he or she considers worth linking to.

How?

Click a link to open it. If a link is no longer working, truncate the URL and try to find the same or related page on the same site. (run your cursor over the URL then select and delete from the right side back, stopping at different '/' marks) You can also use a search engine to search for the same file name on the site.

Example:

All pages linked from the 21CIF Search Wizard web site support the facts and opinions presented. Many of these linked pages offer additional information deepening the readers knowledge on specific concepts. Many pages link to other IMSA web pages; many more link to external organizations (.org), networks (.net), and educational (.edu) institutions. A few links are made to the most educationally focused commercial (.com) and government (.gov) web sites.

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Tip# 4: Do reliable pages LINK TO this author?

Questions to ask:

Do other reliable (or unreliable) pages provide links to the author's page?

Why?

"Links to" a page or site can tell you who considers it a valuable page or site. If other reputable authors or organizations reference the page, it suggests that others have evaluated it positively.

How?

Individual search engines may have their own "links to" features, usually on the advanced search page. Use the following with most other search engines. Type the word "link" followed by a colon and the URL of the page you are evaluating.

Example:

Link:https://21cif.com

Slightly different results are possible if you add an "s" on the end and/or add a space after the colon. Most engines require the "http://" part. The resulting list will contain Webpages that link to the URL you want to evaluate.

Another way to explore related sites is to use the "What's Related" feature of the Netscape browser or the Alexa plug-in for Internet Explorer. This strategy is not as dependable as the "links to" approach, but can help you find other sites that may be used to help evaluate a site.

Linking web sites consist of mainly educational ventures. They support the Internet Search Wizard's efforts to improve teaching and learning in Illinois and beyond. They offer alternative perspectives and additional information about the current state of education. Pages linked to us cover as wide a variety of sites and domains as the pages we link to.

A few sites that link to us:

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Tip# 5: Information from "TRADITIONAL" sources

Questions to ask:

What information on the topic is available from traditional sources such as newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias or library resources on the web?

Why?

Pages on the web that are published in print by publishers or by libraries go through a traditional evaluation process before being published and provide a more dependable standard for evaluating an author or a page.

How?

Check out libraries, professional associations, Biographies, Bibliographies, encyclopedia's and the like online. Look for publications by the author or organization in traditional formats.

Example:

IMSA has been cited by NBC-TV's Dateline, CNN's Science and Technology News, USA Today, USA Weekend, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC-TV's The Money Programme, Physicians Lifestyle Magazine, Education Week, Teacher Magazine, Curriculum Review, Educational Leadership, The Executive Educator, and Redbook, to name a few. All reviews and articles have been supportive.

Libraries include the 21CIF tools in lists of major search engines such as: Yahoo, AltaVista, and Northern Light; suggesting that it is just as credible as leading search engines. Many references offer additional information about searching the Internet and evaluating resources as well as ways to integrate Internet resources into educational environments.

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Tip# 6: Is the page FRESH?

Questions to ask:

How recently was the page published or updated? Does the date of publication affect the reliability of the information? Does the date the document was last updated affect the reliability of the information? How accurately can you determine the date of publication or updating?

Why?

It is important to know whether the information you have found is fresh or outdated. Much information on the web is not updated after it is originally published, and it is harder to determine when web information was published or updated.

Determine how important is it that your presentation use up-to-date information. If the subject is ancient history, then recent changes to the subject matter may not be important or even available.

How?

Look at the bottom of a web page to see if the author has indicated when the page was last updated. Authors and web-masters typically put update information there. If you are using the Firefox or Netscape browser, you can use the "Page Info" option under the Tools or View menu to see information about when the document was last modified on the server where it resides.

Example:

This page was last updated on November 22, 2005. Because our search engine is a meta search engine, it is important we keep it up to date in order to receive results from the quickly changing search engines we use. However, our project tips will most likely remain accurate even as time passes.

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Tip #7: Is the information ACCURATE?

Assess the accuracy of the information in the document.

Questions to ask:

Why ?

The accuracy of factual information can tell you something about the care the author took in preparing the document and can provide clues to (lack of) expertise or potential bias in the ideas represented in the document.

How?

Cross check factual data with other documents on the web by searching for other pages containing information about the facts. Even checking spelling and grammar can sometimes provide a clue about the care taken in creating a document. (By the way, "accurate" was intentionally misspelled in the title.)

Example:

The 21CIF Search Wizard includes "How-to" guides to searching the Internet. According to other web sites and paper documentation covering the same topics, the content presented is accurate. We watch for typographical and grammatical errors and fix them when found.

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Tip# 8: Does the page show BIAS in perspective?

Questions to ask:

Why ?

Bias is a clue that the author may have a deeper purpose than what is first apparent. Information may be missing by design, facts may be one-sided or strong words.may be used place of a reasonable explanation.

How?

There may be no substitute for reading carefully. Pay attention to unexpected WORDS and TONE. If you come across words that seem to be out of place, opinionated, too strong for the content or used in such a way that it makes you react or feel uncomfortable, ask, "what is the author trying to do here?" Be on the alert when you sense something "is too good to be true." You may also try the FIND feature in your browser to look for key words, facts, or other words to see how the author uses them in different contexts in the document.

Example:

Opinions are part of life and so is bias. People tend to promote different views in what they do and say. When one side of an idea is favored, but not the others, that is bias. In fact, it's hard not to be biased.

When does bias become a critical issue? There are bound to be a variety of opinions about this as well. While each person has to decide this for himself or herself, here are two blatant uses of bias found on the Internet:

Malicious bias -- Information mainly intended to destroy a person's or an organization's reputation. Martin Luther King Jr: A true historical examination provides an example of this. Note the use of words like "illicit" on the home page.

Disguised bias -- Information mainly intended to change the reader's mind or actions. While this can be malicious, typical tactics include misrepresenting facts, fraud, making something sound too good to be true or just presenting one side of a story. These often have to do with money, politics, religion, and personal lifestyles.

A glossary of Internet frauds: Lookstoogoodtbetrue.com

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Tip #9: What evidence is provided in support?

Questions to ask:

What evidence is provided to support opinions and conclusions expressed in the document?

Why?

Opinions and conclusions are only as credible as the arguments and evidence used to support them. The amount, quality and logic of the evidence is a key to the reliability of the information presented in a web page.

How?

Look for verifiable facts or references to authoritative sources that can help you determine the credibility of the argument or information. Cross reference the information to other sources. Look for information that contradicts the information given. In the end, you will have to use your own critical thinking skills to sort out fact from opinion and logical argument from emotional appeals.

21CIF Annotated Links provides users with links to many valuable web sites. These sites support the data, most of which is qualitative in nature. If you ever have any questions or comments about the information provided on this website, feel free to contact the 21cif Project Team via email.

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Tip# 10: Contact an expert

Questions to ask:

Can you contact someone with expertise in the area to validate the opinions or conclusions expressed in the document?

Why?

Seeking multiple sources for information (sometimes called triangulation) is a dependable way to be sure that you are getting the whole story and not just part of the story, particularly if the subject is a complex one.

How?

Search for the authors of other web pages (or other pages on the web) who have written about this topic and contact them via email. Ask your librarian or a teacher or someone else you know who is interested in the topic.

These are just a few of the many well-respected organizations attempting to manage the complicated topic of Learning and the Internet:

International Technology Education Association

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

The Foundation for Critical Thinking

From Now On

The American Library Association

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