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Web 2.0 Meets Information Fluency: Evaluating Blogs

By Joyce Valenza

Young Man evaluates web 2.0

Evaluation Skills in the Web 2.0 Information Landscape

This fluency involves determining accuracy, relevance, comprehensiveness; distinguishing among facts, points of view and opinions; and selecting the most useful resources for a particular information need.

The traditional publication process made evaluation a much simpler skill back in the days before digitization, and in the days before information assumed new democratic formats. And while it was easier to teach evaluation in a controlled, black and white world, a world where resources fit into neat little boxes, we now live in a wonderfully rich confusion.

New, as well as traditional questions emerge as learners evaluate the information they find. What is authority? Whose voices are valid and when? Is it best to examine the collective knowledge of the public, or the expert knowledge of academics? What is the information context? Is it a casual information need or a formal or critical project? Who is the audience for my project? Is it an instructor who values scholarship and depth? Is it a breaking issue for which scholarly material does not yet exist? Is the best source scholarly, popular, trade; “on the ground” and timely, or retrospective and reflective; primary or secondary; biased or balanced?

Just as mega-store sites like Amazon address the long tail or the niche market, the Web, and blogging especially, promote the flourishing of the niche opinion, a great democratic concept, but a challenge for learners struggling to evaluate context and bias.

We’ve been offering advice for evaluating websites for more than ten years: use a healthy amount of skepticism when examining any source regarding authority, credibility, accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We’ve suggested students perform Google link checks to see who has linked to a site in question or consult http://whois.org to identify the origin of a domain. Similar advice should be applied to Web 2.0 sources. Kathy Schrock offers a rich collection of evaluation tools for both 1.0 and 2.0 on her Guide for Educators.

How should students evaluate and select blogs as information sources? With blog space doubling every six months and Technorati tracking more than 37 million blogs (Sifry, 2006), how do we help learners to cut through the noise?

Blogs require new types of examination

Blogs are essentially primary sources and can provide lively insights and perspectives not documented by traditional sources. They compare in some ways to a traditional interview, with the speaker controlling the questions. Ripe for essays and debate, blogs present not only the traditional two sides of an issue, but the potentially thousands of takes. And those takes take less time to appear than documents forced through the traditional publishing or peer review process. Blogs allow scholars and experts written opportunities to loosen their ties and engage in lively conversation.

Some questions learners might ask as they evaluate blogs:Young man with a magnifying glass ponders blog evaluation

 

  • Who is the blogger? With so many blogs offering spotty or nonexistent “about” pages, this may be a clue in itself.

  • What sorts of materials is the blogger reading or citing?

  • Does this blogger have influence? Is the blog well-established? Who and how many people link to the blog? Who is commenting? Does this blog appear to be part of a community? (The best blogs are likely to be hubs for folks who share interests with the blogger.) Tools like Technorati http://technorati.com and Blogpulse http://blogpulse.com can help learners assess the influence of a blog.

  • Is this content covered in any depth, with any authority?

  • How sophisticated is the language, the spelling?

  • Is this blog alive? It there a substantial archive? How current are the posts?

  • At what point in a story’s lifetime did a post appear? Examining a story’s date may offer clues as to the reliability of a blog entry.

  • Is the site up front about its bias? Does it recognize/discuss other points of view? (For certain information tasks–an essay or debate–bias may be especially useful. Students need to recognize it.)

  • If the blogger is not a traditional “expert,” is this a first-hand view that would also be valuable for research? Is it a unique perspective?


For our 8th project on the Middle Ages, we illustrate the process of evaluation by pulling up a slightly cleaned up Google result list. Together with the classroom teacher, we model decision-making–students discuss whether or not items on the list would make appropriate choices for the particular research task. We look at portals, and blogs, wikis, student-generated sites, personal sites, and university sites. The teacher discusses whether it makes sense to use Wikipedia or other encyclopedias as sources. For many of our teachers these reference tools are good places to start. They may work as strategies for building vocabulary, identifying experts, and locating additional resources.

This article is from Joyce's chapter for Terry Freedman’s Coming of Age 2.0.

About the Author

Joyce Valenza is an award winning presenter, writer, and Library Media Specialist. Joyce has served in a variety of library and information specialist positions. She has written extensively about the issues of both virtual and traditional libraries. Her current research is focused on discovering the attributes of exemplary school library websites.

Joyce Valenza's NeverEnding Search Blog


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