March 2000 - Judging
Sources for Courses
sponsor, URL, credibility, content, currency, boundaries, quality
The Internet is unequaled in terms of the amount of readily
available current and uncensored information. A fount of informational resources,
but also a fount for misinformation and faulty resources. Unregulated by
the FCC, almost anyone may publish on the Internet. The accessibility of
publishing on the Internet is one of its strengths, but is also the source
of the Internet's potential for disseminating questionable information. The
Internet is a wonderful source for material for online course material and
for research -- BUT, the content and context of Internet sites need judging
before utilizing a site.
The abundance of Internet sites offers teachers sources to include in their courses
and students easily accessible sources for information. It is because of the
bounty of sites as sources that this month's Pointers & Clickers recommends
some evaluative rubrics for assessing the trustworthiness of websites to use
for online courses, or for informational resources.
Anyone can publish on the Web. The author or source of information should show
some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable, and truthful. Some questions
you should ask are:
the name of the author/producer easily identifiable?
The name of the author may be at the top or bottom of the Web page. Sometimes
there will be a link to more information about the author, but keep in mind that
none of it may be true!
the author provide contact information for questions and comments?
An author should be accessible to the audience. Comments or facts stated by anonymous
sources should be taken with a grain of salt.
is the sponsor of the site?
The URL (uniform resource locator) or address of the site gives other clues about
the author. Looking at the URL may help the reader know whether the content is
from an educational institution (.edu), an individual (~name), a government organization
(.gov), or a business .
URL containing "~NAME" may
mean a personal home page with no official sanction. The site
may contain very valuable information for your research, however, it
may also just be someoneís nonprofessional, uninformed point of view
on the subject. Educational institutions provide professors with person
pages, along often also students, so check the authorís credentials
before relying on information of this sort.
The characteristics of being believable
or trustworthy for
web sites includes:
the author associated with a reputable organization?
Many times an author is not
listed, but the organization which they are associated may lend credibility
to the Web site. Look for signs that the author is a member of a
the author considered an expert the field?
What are the authorís credentials and reputation? If an author is
an expert and qualified to write about the information contained
at the site, they should
clearly state it. Look for a link to background information about the author,
or better yet, their Curriculum Vitae. Make
sure it truly is information produced by that expert, and is not posted erroneously
or fraudulently under their name.
Judge the Web sources by their substantive
or meaningful parts by considering:
take the information at face value.
Is the author reporting on research they conducted personally?
Firsthand research is very valuable information if it is done well.
Look at how well the findings are used. If you do not have enough
information to evaluate the results, the facts reported are more
suspect than if you are able to access the research methodology.
other sources say the same thing?
If you find the same information in reliable print sources as you do online,
the potential for accuracy is greater.
is the information up to date.
Some work is timeless, while other information has a limited shelf-life because
of advances in the discipline; and some information (like technology news or
some market values) is outdated very quickly. You must therefore find when
the information you find on a Web site was created, and then decide whether
it is still of value. Look to see if the site has been updated recently, as
reflected by the date on the page.
is the site an overview or does it have a deeper coverage of a subject.
Determine if the content covers a specific time period or aspect of your topic,
or if it strives to be comprehensive. Highly specialized sites contain more
Is the author discussing a controversial topic? if so, an author should state
if they have a vested interest or belief in the subject. Be aware that some
organizations are not neutral by their very nature, such as proponents of certain
paradigms, or national organizations with political beliefs. A site does not
have to appear to be "unbiased" to be valid. Use common sense when
judging a source concerning their boundaries.
are provided by the site.
Are there references within or following the text? If print references, they
can be evaluated the usual way. If references are links to other Internet documents,
youre back at the starting point in evaluating the new reference. Not
having references does not invalidate a source, consider what you are using
the source for, the audience, and the nature of the subject the source concerns.
does a site offer other sites of interest, especially related sites?
Many Web sites contain links to other documents or sites on the
Web. Follow a few of these links to see what kind of information the author
associates with the site. Are the links relevant, appropriate, and working?
of quality control of Internet materials includes these items:
presented on organizational web sites.
For example: sites associated with academic or government institutions, well
known businesses such as Sotheby's auction house, or information web sites
such as the Wall Street Journal, or the Los Angeles Times.
Journals that use refereeing by editors or others.
Many professional on-line journals have a rigorous refereeing process that
material must pass through before it is published on-line. This process is
the same as for printed versions of their journals. Professional organizations
have the same reputation on-line as they do off-line.
Quality, what is the general appearance/organization of a site?
Is the site laid out clearly and logically with well organized subsections?
Is the site easy to navigate and find your way around? Also, if you notice
the use of bad grammar or misspelled words in a web site, it is a sign for
caution. Whether the errors come from carelessness or ignorance, neither puts
the information or the writer in a favorable light.
Evaluating the Validity of Information on the Web
- (search site for correct URL)
Evaluating the Validity of Web Pages
The Most Important Open Course Materials Online
Evaluating Web Resources