Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Reliability of web info

A recent article on eSchool News Online discusses concerns of educators about the reliability of web information. (See “Reliability of web challenges educators.”) The article raises valid points but does not discuss some options that are available to educators.

Students and adults are using web based information for research, often to the point where traditional paper based resources are not used very often. I know that I am guilty of this, if guilty is the right word.

I tend to use traditional resources, but the online versions. In our district we subscribe to eLibrary, which provides us with full text articles from hundreds of periodicals, newspapers and books. This includes Newsweek, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and UPI. They also have an online dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, almanac and atlas. Other publications like TimeSports IllustratedUS News & World ReportNational GeographicGrolier’s OnlineCNN, and CNN Student News are also available online. In North Dakota we have access to many other resources such as Medline & ERIC through the Online Dakota Information NetworkAmazon is even allowing you to Search Inside the Book for certain terms or facts. And the Gutenberg Project provides the full text of many classical books that are out of copyright as well as many other resources that are in the public domain.

We just need to make sure that students (and adults) understand what are considered reliable resources. I remember when a presenter gave each person in the room a book from their personal library and gave us five minutes to prepare a summary. Some were fiction, some were reference books, some were non-fiction, some were textbooks and others were biographies. In most cases the person responsible for the summary of the book listed the publisher, the original and latest publication dates, the author and their credentials, and other facts to support the credibility of the book. How often do we ask students to do this with their sources?

Teachers can also prepare lists of web sites that students could use and make them available on a handout or web site or through a resource like FurliKeepBookmarks or I am currently using Furl to bookmark my recent finds, and then they are organized into our curriculum links and thematic linksWebQuests are often used to define a problem and provide resources to research the problem without “wandering” around the Internet.

We have a district wide subscription to netTrekker, a service that hand picks web sites for educational purposes and also correlates them to state standards.

Another tool that is useful in handling the amount of information found on the web is Grokker. This organizes search results into categories and displays the results in a graphical Venn diagram that allows teachers and students to “drill down” to essential information.
I don’t feel that using the Internet for research is something to be concerned about. There is a lot of great reference materials on the net that is easy for students and adults to access. We just need to make sure that we make people aware that they have to be careful about the resources they use and also help guide them to the “good stuff.”

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