Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts on teaching website evaluation

I was linking through some of the blog posts on In the Library with the Lead Pipe and came across a post I recall reading a while back that has a lot of relevance to what we're always doing. "In Praise of the Internet: Shifting Focus and Engaging Critical Thinking Skills" is to me a little blogosphere gem about teaching students to think about websites critically, and teaching them in a manner that reflects their actual research practices.

Ellie Collier emphasizes a focus on critical thinking skills when teaching website evaluation, instead of fear-mongering tactics that focus on the unreliability of websites. She suggests approaching discussions of websites by encouraging students to ask questions about their information need, "who might have the information they are looking for, what type of person or group would have collected it and why, and where would it have been made available." She provides two good examples that can be easily understood by students:

"One of the examples I always give is that if you want to know the NRA’s stated position on gun control there’s no better place to go than the NRA website. If you want to know the statistics of children killed by their parents’ guns, I wouldn’t get it there. Another example: if you’re writing on Star Trek culture or the phenomena of fan fiction you would absolutely want to use fan sites. Rather than focus on these fan sites as examples of non-authority we should be focusing on clarifying your purpose and identifying what types of sources would fit."

As we consider the changing research requirements for students not just in English 111 & 112, but also in other intro classes (where as we've seen the requirement for academic research is declining), it's important to think about how we are approaching internet searching and website evaluation with our students. Let's face it, no matter what we teach them, many students are starting and sometimes finishing their research on free internet sites, so I think it's our job to help them understand how to know what they are looking at.

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