technology tip of the month Pointer and Clicker Article



March 2000 - Judging Sources for Courses
Keywords: Source, sponsor, URL, credibility, content, currency, boundaries, quality control, refereeing

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:

blue arrowIs 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!

blue arrowDoes 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.

blue arrowWho 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 .

blue arrowAn 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:

blue arrowIs 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 professional organization.

blue arrowIs 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:

blue arrowDon’t 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.

blue arrowDo 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.

blue arrowCurrency, 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.

blue arrowDepth, 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 detailed information.

blue arrowBoundaries are acknowledged.
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.

blue arrowReferences 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, you’re 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.

blue arrowLinks, 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?

Quality Control:
Evidence of quality control of Internet materials includes these items:

blue arrowInformation 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.

blue arrowOn-line 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.

blue arrowGeneral 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

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