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:
- Promotion and discussion of reviewed sources
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.