Monday, October 31, 2005

Student Webpage Evaluation

Today I tried a new approach to teaching web site evaluation and found that it 1) increased student involvement and 2) students already use the criteria we teach to evaluate websites.

In the July 2004 issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy, Marc Meola wrote an article titled “Chucking the Checklist: A Contextual Approach to Teaching Undergraduates Web-Site Evaluation,” in which he criticizes the typical checklist approach to teaching web site evaluation. He argues that students are more critical than we give them credit and that the checklist approach is ineffective for a variety of reasons. He suggests a “contextual approach” that promotes critical thinking skills. This approach involves:

  1. Promotion and discussion of reviewed sources
  2. Comparison
  3. Corroboration

I particularly liked the arguments in favor of the Comparison method and decided to try it out in my Internet class this afternoon. The comparison method requires the researcher to compare different sources and different types of sources in order to select the most useful. Ideally, the researcher will compare print, electronic, free and subscription sources in order to find the sources that most meet his/her information needs. Unfortunately, time limits and the scope of the class limited us to free websites only.

Earlier in the class, we did a search for '“childhood obesity” causes' in Google. I then asked the students to get into groups of 2 or 3 and to decide which of the first three results would be the best website to use for a research paper. After some time in groups, we came back together and voted on the best one (each group only had 1 vote, so they had to agree on their vote).

Selection of only one site spurred a couple of the groups into debate, because they didn’t just have to pick one, but they also had to convince their teammates that it was the best one. Instead of going with a gut feeling, they had to articulate why one site was better than the others. They also had to weigh different factors. For example, one group selected an older website that came from a more authoritative source. They decided the source was more important than the date.

After voting, I asked each group why they selected a particular site. Although I hadn’t taught them the checklist method, many of them used the same criteria. The winner of the vote was a webpage sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They said they selected this one because it came from a trusted source. They noticed the date, but decided the information was still valid. They also considered Coverage. The winning webpage was very lengthy and discussed many aspects of childhood obesity. However, another team voted for a website that was more concise because it offered all the information they needed. Students were also aware of Objectivity. They stated that no advertisements was another reason they selected the winning site over the other sites.

I think I actually learned more than the students did today. I learned that students do value quality sources of information and they critically evaluate websites.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More Power to Ya!

I have been reading Maryellen Weimer's Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. According to Weimer, traditional educational practices are Teacher-Centered, meaning that these practices benefit the teacher more than the student or learner. Weimer advocates for Learner-Centered Teaching, instruction practices that help students learn how to learn. In her book, Weimer promotes shifts in the following 5 areas of instruction:

  • Balance of Power
  • Function of Content
  • Role of the Teacher
  • Responsibility for Learning
  • Purpose and Process of Evaluation

The shift that I found the scariest is the Balance of Power. According to Weimer, sharing power with students increases their motivation and involvement. I won’t go into her arguments, but they are convincing.

I decided to share power with students in my Information Literacy workshops by allowing them to set some of the goals for the workshop. To start the class, I ask students what their goals for the workshop are. This usually takes some prodding with additional questions like “What do you hope to learn?” or “Why did you come?” I type their goals into a Word document and save it. After class, I bring the document back up and ask them to raise their hands if they met goal 1, goal, 2, etc. I count how many raise their hands for each goal so that the document also serves as an assessment document.

Although the goals I previously defined still shape the majority of the workshop, I am able to focus on topics that students want to know about. For example, I usually do not spend much time talking about our Pay-for-Print system, but after a student stated that that was one of her goals, I made sure that we covered that topic. When a colleague of mine tried this same strategy, she learned that the majority of the students in her workshop had a goal different from what she envisioned. As a result, she was able to shift the focus and concentrate on their immediate need.

For the most part, student goals are broad, such as “learn how to do research,” and easily fit into the goals of the Information Literacy program. I have only had to reject a couple of goals because they differed too much from the workshop objective, such as the student in the Library Catalog workshop who wanted to know how to register for courses.